British MP says that scenes of patient Palestinian babies at neonatal units separated from their parents by Israeli occupation pushed her to call out their suffering, but she was accused of being anti-Semitic.
Even after a decade’s experience as a doctor in conflict and disaster zones, Rosena Allin-Khan was appalled at the sight of sick and dying children separated from their parents when she visited hospitals in Jerusalem and the West Bank earlier this year.
“I saw wards full of children with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen,” the Labour MP told the Observer. “I met children undergoing chemotherapy without their parents to support them. In a neonatal unit I saw a baby, the only survivor of premature triplets, whose siblings had died without their mother being able to hold them. I thought, this is wrong; it’s inhumane.”
She had gone to Israel not as a politician but “with my doctor’s hat on”, to investigate the availability of healthcare for Palestinians, particularly those living in Gaza, from where travel is strictly controlled by the Israeli government.
When she returned to the UK, she decided to use her weight as an MP to pursue the issue. She wrote to Jeremy Hunt, then foreign secretary, urging the government to “lean on Israeli authorities to overhaul this inhumane system of deterrence and restricted access to healthcare”.
She went on the BBC’s Today programme to talk about the difficulties faced by parents of sick children in Gaza in getting permits to travel to visit them in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Allin-Khan has been the MP for Tooting, south-west London, since a byelection in 2016 after the previous incumbent, Sadiq Khan, became mayor of London. She spent more than 10 years working as a humanitarian doctor in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and she still does occasional shifts in the A&E department of her local hospital, St George’s in Tooting.
According to pressure group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, more than 7,000 travel permits were issued to children from Gaza last year, but fewer than 2,000 were issued for parents to accompany them.
Al-Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem has said that, in the 18 months to June this year, six babies died there without a parent present.
After three Israeli offensives in the past 12 years, hospitals in Gaza excel at treating trauma injuries. But they often lack the drugs and equipment needed to treat cancer and other serious diseases.
Despite the onslaught against her on Twitter the MP said she would redouble her efforts to persuade the Israeli government to ease travel restrictions for the parents of sick Palestinian children. “This inhumanity has to stop.”