The hurdles to leaving Gaza for medical care (Or, what can you really hide inside a tube of toothpaste?)

We were aware of the “security” issues the Israelis impose on Palestinians crossing Erez. No food. No water. Lipstick? No. Eyeliner? No. Sunblock? No. And no luggage with wheels. We didn’t want to be sent back after all.

In 2019 doctors had finally figured out the cause behind my migraines, and decided I should immediately undergo an operation which Gaza’s hospitals couldn’t handle. Little did anyone know this “immediately” would take forever. Five whole months!

My mother and I applied for the Israeli permits to travel to the West Bank to seek medication. A few months later, a message was received. Noor, me, yes. Ibtisam, my mom, no.

I didn’t want to die on my own. I pictured all the kids who had to go on their own after Israel refused their parents’ permission and died alone in the West Bank; their cold bodies sent back to Gaza by strangers.

So we applied again, this time, with my 50-something-year-old aunt. Another few months later, we both got a “yes” to enter our occupied land, to try to save my life.

It was about half a year later after the doctor told my mom that the tumor in my brain would worsen any moment, ending my life, and it should be removed “immediately”.


We arrived at the Erez checkpoint early in the morning, with little luggage. 

Before we got inside the large halls, an old Palestinian guy checked our luggage to make sure we had nothing ‘illegal’. He told us we can’t take my aunt’s medications with us, including a small cream that helps calm her psoriasis flare-ups. 

Then, he threw my pens, including a kohl pen, in the basket next to him, which was full of trivial stuff that belonged to the passengers he helped, lest the Israelis send them back.

Thirty minutes later, we were inside, and the Israeli soldiers took our bags for a “security” check. 

Forty minutes later, all the passengers passed and found their stuff back. But mine didn’t appear. 

I waited and waited. I was afraid something was wrong with my permission, and my doubts and migraine were eating me.

Later, a woman in a military uniform came with a transparent bag with my toothpaste in it as if she was holding crime evidence for investigation. 

She called my name and asked in an American accent, “Is this yours?” 

“Yes,” I muttered.

“Go throw it in Gaza,” she said in clear disgust.

“But.. we are in Gaza, aren’t we?” I looked at my aunt.

“Go outside these halls. Cross the gates. Throw it. And come back,” she said as if she were giving directions for someone who lost his way.

Hearing this, I pictured all the endless gates we passed and the long lines we waited in in order to get here.

I looked around like a little kid, scared and lonely, and asked her if I could throw it in the empty basket just next to us.

“No. Go throw it in GAZA,” she shouted.

I carried myself and my toothpaste, and “went back to Gaza”.

I threw my toothpaste by the fence. I turned my back to the toothpaste and entered the maze again.

I passed through the same gates and checkpoints and lines and people again. This time, the female police didn’t ask me to reveal part of my hijab to the “security” cameras as she did the first time.

I arrived at the last part of that maze, got my luggage and finally was in our occupied lands.


We were going to a hospital in Hebron where I was supposed to go for the surgery.

But, my aunt asked the driver if he could take us to Jerusalem first. 

We were late, but I didn’t think about the one-day permission, the hospital, the doctor or my migraine, and nodded my head in excitement.

We were there, for the first time in 23 years of my life. I never thought Gaza was this close to Jerusalem! I always imagined it to be hundreds of miles away.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the sparkling golden dome and understood then why a girl on the internet once wrote that she wished to get sick and be transferred to the West Bank so she could get to see Al-Aqsa Mosque.

We prayed in Al-Aqsa, and I told my aunt, “I am healed… I don’t think we need to go to the hospital in Hebron anymore.” She laughed, but I wasn’t joking.


We stayed in Hebron for a week. When the doctor further diagnosed me, he said the operation could better be done in Israeli hospitals as the methods used were way safer than the one in Hebron, but medical transfers there had been stopped by Israel.

With little chance to leave the operation room in Hebron on foot and in sound condition, I decided to go back to Gaza and keep trying to seek medical attention somewhere else, probably in another country, as far-reaching and expensive and hopeless as it seemed.

My head was calmer and the migraines were better, but Israel never stops causing larger and more intensive migraines to us.

Just the night we were packing to go back to Gaza, Israel struck Gaza with missiles, killing two Palestinians, and the borders were closed. I was stuck in the hospital for more nights.


A week later, Israel announced a ceasefire, and we were getting ready to go back to Gaza.

We headed to Qalandiya checkpoint holding over 7 kg of white cheese that my aunt decided to buy, believing it’s delicious and different from the one in Gaza. 

She bought one kilo for herself first. Then, she couldn’t bear betraying my three uncles and not buying another 6 kg for their families.

Swinging with 7 kg of cheese, under the scorching sun, in my head I was weaving the stories I would tell my siblings about our homeland, the scenery, and the roads of Jerusalem, and wondering if I would ever get out of Gaza again or if I would ever recover. And, honestly, fantasizing about how the cheese I was carrying would taste in order to forget about how heavy the bags were.

We crossed another maze at Qalandiya checkpoint, and we gave our stuff to the Israeli soldiers for a “security” check.

Minutes later, a blond girl shouted from behind a thick transparent glass in a mix of broken Arabic, English and Hebrew, “What is this?” She barked many times.

“What?” I muttered.

“The white things,” she was trying hard to explain.

“Oh, that’s only cheese. You know… it’s cheese,” I answered and felt I was ready to defend our cheese at all costs. 

We passed, but the 7 kg of white cheese was denied entry.

“Can I just have a taste of it?”

We were back in Gaza. And my migraines caused by the tumor were nothing compared to those that Israeli drones hovering in Gaza sky cause.

In the end, three months after this story took place, I was able to find a doctor who agreed to do the operation in Turkey, and a kind man who sponsored it. This time I traveled through Egypt, and managed to take all of my stuff with me. However, my dad who was accompanying me was denied entry by the Egyptian authorities, and I had to resume that hard journey on my own. It is a long story for another time, but it took me two months to recover finally and thankfully.

BEFORE YOU GO – Stories like the one you just read are the result of years of efforts by campaigners and media like us who support them by getting the word out, slowly but doggedly.

That’s no accident. Our work has helped create breakthroughs in how the general public understands the Palestinian freedom struggle.

Mondoweiss plays a key role in helping to shift the narrative around Palestine. Will you give so we can keep telling the stories in 2022 that will be changing the world in 2023, 2025 and 2030?


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