‘My father is missing’: Israel arrests Gaza patients in Jerusalem hospital

Saeb Ali al-Tanani, 14, has a tumour in his leg. Last Wednesday, Suhaila, his grandmother, was with him as he wheeled himself down the corridor at Makassed Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem.

“He has to do genetic and blood tests, so he will be here a while,” Suhaila said, while remembering their family in Gaza. “Our hearts break for what our family are going through in Gaza.”

A day later, fear would come to haunt the hospital itself.

On Thursday, Israeli forces arrested Suhaila. She is one of 12 Palestinians in detention who were either receiving treatment at Makassed Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem, or were acting as medical chaperones for patients.

According to a statement by the Israeli police, the Palestinians were staying “illegally” at the hospital, after their medical permits, issued by the Israeli military, expired.

“In a joint operation by the Jerusalem District Police and Jerusalem security guard soldiers, 12 female and male suspects residing illegally in Israel were identified and arrested,” the police said in a statement, adding that the deputy director of the hospital was also summoned for interrogation.

“Of these, 11 residents of the Gaza Strip are suspected of remaining in the hospital over the past few weeks in violation of the law, and the other suspect is a Palestinian who [is] residing in Israel illegally.”

Qaddoura Fares, the head of the Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners Affairs Commission for the Palestinian Authority (PA), told Al Jazeera that the PA did not have any information on those arrested.

“The occupation authorities did not provide us or the Red Cross any details about the detainees from Gaza,” he said, speaking from the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. “We don’t even know where they are being held or what their names are.”

Usually, Israel provides the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with the names of Palestinians it has arrested. The Red Cross in turn informs the PA. The role of the ICRC typically includes visiting detainees and restoring contact between family members.

‘I want Mama and Baba’

Other patients and their accompanying relatives said they are stuck in limbo, unable to go home, and forced to stay at the hospital.

Imm Taha al-Farra is with her nine-year-old granddaughter Hala, who underwent a spinal operation on October 7.

“We were supposed to go back after a few days,” Imm Taha said. “We can’t go back now. We don’t know anything. How are we supposed to go back?”

Hala, who said she wants to be a doctor so that she can treat children, has been asking to go home for weeks.

“I want Mama and Baba,” she said. “I miss my brothers Omar and Ali.”

Their family live in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. Imm Taha said the families of her nieces and nephews, all 16 members, were killed in an Israeli air raid on their home.

Another patient, Mahdiya al-Shanti, has also been in the hospital for more than a month.

“I was supposed to go home towards the end of October, but now I can’t because of the war,” the 20-year-old from northern Gaza said.

“It’s hard to know how my family is doing all the time because the internet cuts off and sometimes they can’t charge their phones,” she continued. “They fled the north to Khan Younis but since there’s no safe place in Gaza it’s like they went from one danger zone to another.”

Mahdiya said that the forces stormed the hospital and barged into patients’ rooms and the rooms where the medical chaperones stay.

“They said they were looking for anyone from Gaza,” she said.

She quickly sent a message to her dad, who was in one of those rooms, warning him that the Israeli forces were around. But it was too late.

“I don’t know where they’ve taken him,” Mahdiya said. “How can they do this in a hospital? Now I’m all alone and sick with worry. My family is in Gaza, my father is missing, and I am a patient here all by myself.”

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