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The forgotten rights of Disabled Palestinians

December 10, 2023

Latifa Daud
Latifa Daud

The footage is haunting, unimaginable, and bound to be etched into my mind for the rest of my life. The war on Gaza has been raging for the past two months. At the time of writing, the US has just vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to demand a ceasefire in Gaza after an estimated 17,400 people in Gaza have been killed by Israel’s military campaign according to the Palestinian territory’s Heath Ministry. A further 46,000 have been wounded.

Forgive me if this piece feels emotive and at times incoherent. I am struggling to find stability in a time when the earth seems to be rumbling with injustice.

What has been most disturbing to me has not only been the injustice committed to disabled Palestinians, but the way the world has forgotten some of the most vulnerable people that exist in our time. Long before this ‘war’ started, on-the-ground accounts have shown disabled Palestinians as they discuss their realities under Israeli occupation. Examples include how IDF aggression made them disabled, how homes with multiple disabled family members were given short warning to evacuate before their house would be bombed, and the experience of sensing bombardment while Deaf. The current aggression has only intensified these lived realities.

I must stress for a second time that these accounts have existed long before October 7.

“The occupation has been inflicting physical and psychological violence on the Palestinian people for decades. With this violence comes physical disability, mental distress, and trauma so deep that it is not referred to as PTSD, because there is no ‘post’ period. It is ongoing, generational, and relentless.”

Article 11 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRDP) states that in accordance with international humanitarian law, State Parties must take “all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters”.

I speak for my wheelchair-using reality where I am in my accessible home and not surrounded by rubble and natural human panic. If I was told by a nuclear-armed occupying force that my family and I had three minutes to evacuate before a bomb is dropped on my home, there is no way. It is a death sentence, and a non-disabled person can see that too.

According to Al Jazeera, there are 50,000 disabled people living in Gaza. ”

Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who was working at Al-Shifa and Al-Ahli hospitals from 9 October to 18 November. He told The Telegraph that he performed six amputations on children in one night, and as of 27 November, believed up to 900 children in Gaza had undergone amputations since the start of the conflict. This number will have increased significantly since then.

If medical supplies and assistive devices such as wheelchairs and hearing aids are not allowed into the strip in the first place, safety cannot be guaranteed in cases of carpet bombing and collective punishment (also a violation of international law). Israel is a UN member state and a signatory of the UNCRDP, therefore bound by its standards. Its crimes continue to be ignored by the UN, the very body who is supposed to maintain accountability.

And therein lies my biggest fear, and the source of my instability. If Palestinians can be neglected and allowed to suffocate by the UN and the world, it exposes the fragility of the entire system. If our safety depends on the passport we were born with and geopolitical allyships, the slightest misstep can rip everything out from under us. Everything we and our predecessors have fought so hard for will be in vain. This is not just true for Disabled people, but also Indigenous peoples, queer communities, refugees, and other colonised peoples around the world.

Sources to read:

"A general lack of assistive devices in Gaza such as wheelchairs, prostheses, crutches, and hearing aids, a result primarily of restrictions linked to Israel’s unlawful 16-year closure of Gaza, is also effecting people’s ability to flee. People who have visual, hearing, developmental, or intellectual disabilities may not hear, know about, or understand what is happening."

"In 2022, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the number of Palestinians with disabilities in the occupied territories was about 93,000, constituting 2.1 percent of the total population. Some 52 percent of that number, or 48,360, live in the Gaza Strip, while the rest reside in the occupied West Bank."

"Despite Ghada Alree being unable to walk and reliant on family for mobility, New Zealand initially told her this week they would not allow her mother to be added to a list with her for evacuation from Gaza to Egypt."

"People who are deaf or blind are less likely to know about evacuation orders and cannot hear or see the strikes, disability advocates and aid organizations told CNN. Others with intellectual disabilities may be unable to communicate their whereabouts to relatives or rescue workers, while people with physical disabilities who rely on wheelchairs and other assistive devices are unable to navigate rubble, let alone walk miles south."

Header image: A disabled Palestinian competes during a local race on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Gaza City, Dec. 3, 2020. (REUTERS Photo)