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JERUSALEM: In a small hotel near the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, where she received radiation therapy for breast cancer, Palestinian Rim Abu Obeida waits anxiously.
She is among a group of Palestinian patients living in limbo while a top Israeli court weighs whether they can be sent back to war-torn Gaza now that their treatment is completed.
Like dozens of Gazans before the Israel-Hamas war erupted, she was granted permission to leave the territory for care because hospitals in the Gaza Strip did not have the necessary equipment.
“This week, we were suddenly told we had to return to Gaza. This is sending us to hell, to death!” Abu Obeida said.
If she is forced to leave, she will not have much to return to — her house in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis has been destroyed in Israeli’s offensive against Hamas.
The roughly 20 patients from Gaza, most of them battling cancer, have been receiving treatment in Tel Aviv and East Jerusalem for the past six months.
COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry body that governs civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, said this week that because the patients “don’t need any continued medical treatment, they are being returned to the Gaza Strip.”
But at the last minute, the Israeli Supreme Court, responding to a petition by the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, suspended COGAT’s order.
The court is expected to rule on the case, though the timeline is unclear. The government has until April 21 to file its arguments.
In the next room, along with Abu Obeida, Manal Abu Shaaban was busy stashing food into her bags.
“I have rice, sugar, everything they are deprived of there. I hope they won’t stop me from bringing them in,” she said.
Abu Shaaban, a breast cancer patient like Abu Obeida, said she was not opposed to returning.
Still, she knew the security situation meant she would be unable to reach her home in Gaza City, in the besieged territory’s north.
“I want to go back. But to my home, in my house! Not in Rafah, in the south, where they want us to go, I don’t know anyone there,” she said.
Large swaths of the north have been flattened by Israeli bombardment, and a UN-backed assessment said the area faces famine by May unless substantially more aid reaches it.
Meanwhile, in Gaza’s south, up to 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are crammed into Rafah and live under the threat of a full-scale Israeli ground offensive.
Asked about the fate of the patients who face being returned to Gaza, Augusta Victoria Hospital director Fadi Mizyed paused for a few seconds.
“I don’t know. They will go back in a war zone, they will be at risk, they will be living in catastrophic conditions,” he said.
“The situation in Gaza is beyond description, with no guaranteed healthcare services that can do what is needed for any cancer patients.”
“We said we don’t think it’s the right thing to do but at the end of the day it’s not our call,” he added.

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