A Palestinian toddler who was abandoned by his parents and refused payment for medical care by the Palestinian government, has been cared for at an Israeli hospital where doctors privately fundraised to cover costs of his care.
According to the Associated Press, Mohammed al-Farra, aged 3½, was born with a rare genetic disease that led to the amputation of both hands and feet. Rushed to Israel as a newborn, his genetic disorder left him with a weakened immune system and severe bowel problems. Ultimately, the child’s body was crippled by an infection that destroyed both his hands and feet, resulting in the amputations.
As the treatment progressed, however, Mohammed’s mother abandoned him because her husband, ashamed of their son, threatened to marry a second wife if she would not leave the baby and return to their home in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis. Polygamy is permitted in Gaza, and, while it is not common, women are fearful of it and the potential competition from newer wives that comes with it.
Once abandoned by his parents, Mohammed’s grandfather, 55, took charge of his care and now lives with him at the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, where doctors have grown fond of the toddler as he continues to undergo treatment and learns how to use his prosthetic limbs.
“There’s no care for this child in Gaza, there’s no home in Gaza where he can live,” said Mohammed’s grandfather, Hamouda al-Farra. “He can’t open anything by himself, he can’t eat or take down his pants. His life is zero without help.”
The AP observes the causes of Mohammed’s situation:
Mohammed’s plight is an extreme example of the harsh treatment some families mete to the disabled, particularly in the more tribal-dominated corners of the Gaza Strip, even as Palestinians make strides in combatting such attitudes.
It also demonstrates a costly legacy of Gaza’s strongly patriarchal culture that prods women into first-cousin marriages and allows polygamy, while rendering mothers powerless over their children’s fate.
When Mohammed’s treatment is complete, it is not clear where he will go since, as a Palestinian, he is not eligible for permanent Israeli residency but his parents will not take him back.
The AP contacted Mohammed’s parents, but they refused to comment on their son’s situation.
Mohammed, who scampers about in a tiny red wheelchair and uses his knees and elbows to run up and down stairwells, calls his grandfather, “Baba,” which is Arabic for “Daddy.”
According to Dr. Raz Somech, senior physician in the Tel Hashomer pediatric immunology department, Mohammed’s genetic disorder is caused by the several generations of cousin marriages in his family – including his parents. Somech said about a third of his patients are Palestinians and most have genetic diseases that were the result of close-relation marriages.
In patriarchal parts of Gaza, men reportedly believe they have “first rights” to marry their female cousins, even above the women’s own wishes. Parents approve the partnerships because they believe it strengthens family bonds and ensures inheritances remain within the tribe.
The AP indicates that approximately 183,600 Gaza residents, 10.8 percent, suffer from some kind of disability that affects their mental health, eyesight, hearing, or mobility.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is supposed to pay for transfers to Israeli hospitals, but, according to Somech, funding stopped six months after Mohammed arrived at the hospital. The AP reports that Palestinian health official Fathi al-Hajj said there was no record of the case.