We are not Numbers – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 04 Dec 2021 05:16:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.18 Gaza under Blockade: Hope Struggles against Cancer https://www.juancole.com/2021/10/blockade-struggles-against.html Sun, 03 Oct 2021 04:06:02 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=200402 By Omar Salah | –

( We are not Numbers) – Aya Alzeer, 32 years old, lives in Gaza and has had three battles with cancer. She faced it with her mother, her six-year-old son, Baraa, and now she’s battling it herself. She has always been positive and active, and she loves life, moving between Saudi Arabia and Palestine.

She first met the malignant disease when colon cancer came for her mum, Soad. “Because of this disease, I lost my mom,” Aya said. At that time, Aya was just a child and knew very little about cancer. She wondered: What is cancer? How does it feel to have cancer? But she pushed her questions aside and concentrated on standing by her mother and supporting her to get well — just as she used to be. Giving her mother hope and supporting her emotionally was Aya’s last shot.

The late discovery of her mother’s disease made her situation even worse. “The disease kept spreading through my mother’s body until it stole her from me,” she says. It was such a big shock for Aya that she struggled to believe it had happened. Yet, Soad’s smiles and kindness still live inside Aya – her soul walks with her even after 20 years.

Mothers walk beside their daughters to take care of them, but Aya missed her mother’s hands in the toughest days. The shock of her mother’s death cut Aya deeply. So often through the years, she has felt her loss. So often she has craved her mother being next to her, and never more so than when cancer came for her own child.

In June 2016, the unwelcome guest returned. Baraa’s six-year-old body suffered with fever, and he couldn’t walk. At first, doctors misdiagnosed him and cast his leg, assuming it was broken, but Aya knew it was more. As Baraa worsened, fear controlled her and drove her obsession as she pushed for laboratory tests and clinical examinations.

She knew it was cancer and be damned if she thought she’d let it take her little boy from her. And when the doctors sat her down, their faces downcast, to tell her that her baby had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant, her heart ripped. Her world collapsed, and the light went dark. When she regained consciousness, she committed to doing the impossible for her child.

As a child, Baraa couldn’t be treated in Gaza, and he needed an urgent medical referral to the West Bank where there’s more chance of success. It is never easy to obtain a medical referral to outside Gaza, whether to the Occupied Territories, the West Bank or even Egypt. One time, the medical referral was delayed for three months, and Baraa was late for his treatment, which affected his health badly. The frequent disruptions of chemotherapy affects all cancer patients in the Gaza strip, just it has for Baraa.

After many challenges and setbacks, with the help of human rights associations Aya managed to get the medical referral to the West Bank. She and her boy stayed in the West Bank for almost three months, away from her husband and daughter. Fear of losing her son controlled her, especially during the surgery.


Aya’s son, Baraa

She was a bundle of nerves all the time. Her anxiety kept her on edge until she knew Baraa was safe. After the last dose of chemotherapy, the doctors told her Baraa was in the clear but needed continuous follow-up. These words warmed Aya’s heart and her soul returned to her body, knowing her child was now free from leukemia and the danger was over.

Her time to rejoice in her son’s recovery was short lived. Once again, the unwelcome guest arrived. In 2019, it came for Aya. She had expected it and prepared mentally for the each of the three surgeries to remove lumps from her breast. Doctors in the Gaza Strip diagnosed her lumps as benign, but she pushed. She knew it was cancer. She buckled down and got ready to battle her cancer, hoping to destroy it in this final round.

This time, Aya wasn’t alone. Her husband was always by her side, supporting her, especially in the first dose of chemotherapy. Her body screamed. “A flashback of my mother’s and son’s sufferings invaded my mind,” she says. Aya believed her pain would make her even stronger. Nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and hair loss ravaged her. Writing became the way she eased the pain. She poured out her pain every night in writing as cancer echoed in her mind: “I will spread all over your body and strip your hair from you.”

Now, Aya should to be taking her next dose of chemotherapy. But it was delayed; the latest attack and the blockage of the Gaza Strip prevented the entry of chemotherapy doses. Aya is still fighting this merciless disease. After taking her chemotherapy dose, she will undergo surgery, hoping it will be her final round.

Aya, like all cancer patients in Gaza, is suffering from disruptions to chemotherapy. The blockade means people who desperately need help are enduring insufficient medical care. Aya, like others, is deprived of medical referrals outside Gaza and can’t get the right treatment. The constant delay of medical supplies is killing cancer patients. Pray for Aya, pray for cancer patients in Gaza. They are the real fighters.

Via We are not Numbers

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English: “COVID-19 exacerbates the suffering of Gaza cancer patients”

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Gaza’s children choose between working and starving https://www.juancole.com/2021/09/children-between-starving.html Tue, 28 Sep 2021 04:04:18 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=200309 By Aseel Kabariti | –

Gaza ( We Are Not Numbers) – Child labor takes many forms. Many people picture a child in a factory, but sometimes it’s an adorable kid pulling on your sleeve in a market.

“Could you please buy some mint from me?” asked a young boy with a warm smile and impressively cool haircut.

It was a sunny day, and Al-Shejaiya market was full of sounds: people crowding stalls, voices of street vendors and buyers haggling. My little sister and I could barely hear our own voices above the commotion. We were buying supplies for Ramadan when the young boy popped up.

“I am going to take a picture of you instead,” I replied, freezing his grin with my camera.

My little sister suggested posting it on Instagram, but I hesitated. Does posting a cute picture normalize this kind of child labor or draw much-needed attention?

Child labor in Gaza

According to a 2018 UNICEF report, almost one-third of Palestinian families live below the poverty line—with unemployment at 53.7 percent in the Gaza Strip. The situation has only become worse since the pandemic. As a result, the number of children working in family shops or as street vendors has increased dramatically. On every corner in Gaza City’s popular streets, you can find at least one child begging passersby to purchase whatever they are selling. Many of these kids have no choice; they may be providing the only source of income for their family.


Photo by Aseel Kabariti.

Is child labor always bad?

The International Labor Organization defines child labor as any kind of work “that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” The 1973 Minimum Age Conventions “sets the general minimum age for admission to employment or work at 15 years (13 for light work).”

But to play devil’s advocate, these definitions, while well-intentioned morally, fail to consider the specific conditions and personal experience of a working child. There are three important points to consider.

First, international organizations have drawn the age line for work without considering country-specific circumstances. There are many families in Gaza that totally depend on their children to help provide essential support to make ends meet, including basic food and water. If international law were followed here and these kids were prevented from working, some families would literally starve. When faced with the choice between the children working or members of the family dying from hunger, what would you choose?

Second, there are numerous double standards when it comes to deciding if a child’s work is good or bad for them. For example, society has accepted that children can work as models, musicians, and actors, but not in shops or stores. The main argument is that the latter kind of work deprives children of their childhood and doesn’t help them improve their skills.

But working in shops or selling things to customers can indeed help children learn and grow, improving their communication, leadership and marketing skills. And work can teach children many practical things they won’t learn in middle school and that might help them secure better jobs in the future.

Third, working and going to school aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, most working children go to school. And work can help children along their educational journeys, especially in this period, which demands an internet connection to complete the educational process—especially after the outbreak of COVID-19, which pushed most education online.
What should we do?

The child my sister and I met in the market has been forced to spend his childhood working. Social, political and economic conditions beyond his control have shaped his life. While he shouldn’t have to work so his family can survive, the solution isn’t to criminalize child labor in Gaza. It’s to support economic development and create jobs, followed by educational and social support for these children. And for children who have to work, there are some educational benefits and it shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as being any different from a child actor or musician.

Mentor: Ben Gass

Via We Are Not Numbers

Featured photo by Aseel Kabariti

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