Disabled Gazans paralysed by crippling effects of Israel's blockade

Mohammed Amrin - photo by Mohammed Zannoun.jpg
6 min read
05 September, 2023

Amid critical medication shortages, frequent power outages, and growing financial stress in securing spare parts for electric wheelchairs and scooters, Gaza's disabled people face unparalleled challenges.

Mohammed Amrin, 33, a father of three children, has cerebral palsy and completely depends on a scooter for his mobility. He has also been unemployed for over 12 years. "We have to endure the Israeli blockade, wars, and internal problems without mercy. Disabled people are always left behind," Mohammed told The New Arab

"The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is a great humanitarian crime as it denies Gazans access to the most basic of rights"

For disabled people, mobility is a lifeline, and electric wheelchairs and scooters are their gateways to life. “Without a scooter, there is no life for me,” Mohammed added. However, the cost of these chairs and scooters, coupled with their scarcity, has placed their availability beyond the reach of many.

“After 7 years of searching, I got a scooter in 2015, but it was in a bad condition. After two months, it was ruined and unusable,” he said. “Due to their unavailability and high prices, I was without a scooter until May 2023. The Israeli blockade has not only driven up prices but also limited our access to goods, including scooters. Scooters can cost up to $4,000," Mohammed explained. "How can I afford that with a monthly income of $120."

Israel's blockade of Gaza has meant maintenance costs for wheelchairs and electric scooters have skyrocketed [photo credit: Mohammed Zannoun]
Israel's blockade of Gaza has meant maintenance costs for wheelchairs and electric scooters have skyrocketed [photo credit: Mohammed Zannoun]

Human Rights Watch has also issued a report highlighting the Israeli blockade on Gaza: “People with disabilities in Gaza face difficulties accessing assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and hearing aids, due largely to Israeli import restrictions, shortfalls in local authorities’ and aid groups’ provision of necessary devices, and a lack of expertise in Gaza to repair damaged devices.”

Mohammed holds an accounting degree from Al-Azhar University in Gaza. However, 12 years of unemployment left him disillusioned, a poignant representation of the broader economic stagnation that the blockade has sowed in Gaza.

Frustration pushed him to take matters into his own hands, resulting in his setting up a modest booth selling socks and accessories for children and girls. He was driven by necessity rather than choice.

He was dependent on government assistance, around $450, which was supposed to be paid every three months. But they were paid only 300 shekels - $90 - last week for the first time in more than a year due to a lack of funds from the EU to the Palestinian Authority.

Furthermore, Gaza's crippling power shortages badly affect people with disabilities, as it means there is no power for lifts, or for charging electric wheelchair batteries and scooters.

“A fully charged scooter takes 8 to 12 hours to charge, but only four hours of electricity are available every 12 hours," Mohammed tells The New Arab. "My source of income is dependent on the scooter. If there is no battery, I cannot go to work, and if I don't go to work, there isn't anyone else to help my children and my family."

Public transportation remains an elusive option. Taxi fares can cost up to 12 shekels, and Mohammed's daily income is just 20 shekels. 

Mohammed, who also suffers from a problem with the nerves in his feet, needs daily muscle relaxant treatment. This treatment is rare in Gaza and only international institutions can provide it in coordination with the Ministry of Health.

“Every year, the treatment is interrupted for three months, during which time I literally taste death. My neighbours can hear my screams of agony from the foot spasms.”

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Travel restrictions

Israa*, 30, is diagnosed with thrombocytopenia. Israel denied her treatment request and, as a result, her health condition worsened, impairing her daily activities.

“I was going for treatment normally, but suddenly in March 2023, I encountered a refusal without reason.”

The refusal of Israa’s request put her in a miserable condition and greatly affected her mental health. “Israel's rejection had an unbearable toll on my psyche and body, each day is now a struggle. It felt as though the complexities of the illness would render me unable to comprehend and move,” she shared with The New Arab, her voice tinged with anguish.

Medical requests have been refused by Israel for almost half of Gazan patients, experiencing delays and bans from access to the West Bank, Jerusalem, or Israeli hospitals under security pretexts, although the Palestinian Authority covers all costs.

She sought the help of Al Mezan, a Gaza-based human rights group. Al Mezan petitioned the Israeli high court, which permitted her to travel to the West Bank for treatment on 7 August this year.

Yehya Mubarb, a lawyer at Al Mezan, described the Israeli restrictions on travel permits for medical treatment as ‘inhumane and illegal’ according to international law. “Every day I suffer from a terrible psychological fear of receiving a rejection notice again,” Israa said.

"For disabled people, mobility is a lifeline, and electric wheelchairs and scooters are their gateways to life"

Deadly isolation

The heart-wrenching saga of twelve-year-old Ahmad Al-Taramsi echoes the harsh realities endured by children with cerebral palsy and neurodivergency in the tumultuous landscape of Gaza. 

The economic distress gripping the Strip, coupled with the unyielding Israeli blockade, has cast a long shadow over Ahmad's quest for a better life, thwarting his access to vital care and education.

Several years ago, Ahmad was in need of a wheelchair to access specialised treatment and rehabilitation facilities, but this remained out of reach due to the family's dire financial constraints. “The unavailability of the wheelchair exacerbated Ahmad's condition, depriving him of the crucial therapeutic interventions he desperately needed,” Om Khaled, Ahmed's mother, said.

Ahmad Al-Taramsi - photo by Mohammed Zannoun
12-year-old Ahmad Al-Taramsi is deprived of basic therapeutic services [photo credit: Mohammed Zannoun]

While Ahmad has outgrown his need for a wheelchair, his mother stresses the dire requirement for centres catering to his psychological and social rehabilitation.

Ahmad's educational aspirations have also been tragically stymied by his circumstances. “A monthly sum of 400 shekels for the rehabilitation centre is required for Ahmed, while my meagre income is at 800 shekels, stretched across ten mouths,” the poor father added.

“Despite being of sixth-grade age, Ahmad remains absent from school due to the unique challenges posed by his condition. The financial straits have rendered us incapable of enrolling him in specialised educational institutions equipped to nurture his growth and development,” he said.

Ahmad's mother's voice trembles with emotion as she reveals, “Ahmed deserves a childhood just like any other child around the globe. We dream of an improved economic situation that would enable us to seek treatment for him abroad.”

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Salah Abdel-Aty, a human rights expert and director of the International Commission to Support Palestinian People’s Rights, noted that “the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is a great humanitarian crime as it denies Gazans access to the most basic of rights."

According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, “banning medical equipment and denying disabled people access to hospitals in the West Bank and Jerusalem may constitute war crimes,” Salah concluded.

The quest for medical care remains a poignant struggle for the Al-Taramsi family. Ahmad's physicians have prescribed vital medications to enhance his condition, but the family's limited resources prohibit them from procuring the necessary treatment or travelling abroad.

*Name changed to protect identity

Mahmoud Mushtaha is a Gaza-based freelance journalist and human rights activist. He works as a media assistant at We Are Not Numbers, a project of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

Follow him on Twitter: @MushtahaW