Palestinian victim cared for in U.S.

WHIPPANY, N.J., Nov. 22 (JTA) — An unusual coalition that included Arabs and Jews brought a severely wounded Palestinian child from Gaza to a Monmouth County hospital for treatment. Adham Ghalia, age 10, is currently recuperating after undergoing extensive surgery at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch. But the journey from his home in Gaza to the United States was long and complicated. It involved the efforts of an American relief organization for Palestinian children, the consul general of Israel in New York, the Egyptian government, and a New Jersey congressman. On June 9, Adham was injured in an explosion on a beach in Gaza. His father, his father’s wife, and five siblings were killed, and Adham sustained severe leg injuries that have required months of medical care. Although initial reports said the explosion was caused by a stray Israeli artillery shell, Israel’s Defense Ministry subsequently said Israel was not responsible. Representatives of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, an American nonprofit organization with offices in Kent, Ohio, visited Adham at his home in Gaza in September after his release from an Israeli hospital. The boy’s condition had improved but he still suffered partial paralysis in his legs. “I sat with his relatives to explain his treatment and get permission to help him,” said Steve Sosebee, president and CEO of the PCRF. After he obtained the family’s consent, Sosebee said, the PCRF began to arrange for Adham to receive treatment at Monmouth Medical Center. The organization bought his plane ticket and found a host family in New Jersey who would care for the boy during his recovery from the surgical procedures. However, the Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel and the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt were closed for security purposes. Transporting the boy out of Gaza necessitated the involvement of other parties. In October, Arye Mekel, consul general of Israel in New York, received a call from Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), whose district includes a section of Monmouth County. Holt, who had been made aware of the situation involving Adham by the PCRF, called Mekel to ask for his assistance in bringing the boy to the United States. “Because of the security situation in Gaza, there was no way to get him out,” Mekel told New Jersey Jewish News. “But we immediately began to see what we could do to try and remedy the situation.” Mekel contacted the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and representatives of the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF contacted a member of the PCRF to discuss what could be done to transport the boy out of Gaza, according to Mekel. “It is highly unusual for the IDF to do something like this,” Mekel said. “But in this case, it was deemed necessary to have their involvement. We felt it was a humanitarian mission to help this boy, who had suffered so much. We mobilized to try and get him out of Gaza.” Then, in what Mekel called a “stroke of luck,” the Rafah crossing was opened for a few hours on a day in mid-October. The IDF contacted a PCRF representative to alert him to this window of opportunity, Mekel said. As a result, in cooperation with the IDF, the boy was driven to Rafah and subsequently crossed into Egypt; he spent a week in a Cairo medical facility while the Egyptian government helped obtain a U.S. visa for him, Mekel said. On Oct. 30, Adham arrived in New Jersey and was admitted to Monmouth Medical Center. A surgical team led by Dr. Andrew Elkwood performed neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery on the child. The outlook is reportedly good, although somewhat guarded, according to hospital personnel. While Adham recuperated in the hospital, Mekel called the Jewish Federation of Greater Monmouth County and told them the young boy’s story. Rabbi Ephraim Karp, community chaplain for the federation’s Joint Chaplaincy, visited Adham in the hospital and spent about 30 minutes with the boy. Prior to the visit, however, Karp contacted Mekel’s office and obtained contact information for the PCRF. “I’m a chaplain, but I’m also an Orthodox rabbi,” Karp said. “I wanted to go through the proper channels before going to see this boy. I needed to make sure my visit was appropriate and that the PCRF knows we’re here and that we want to help.” After getting clearance, Karp made his visit to Adham. “He spoke only Arabic, so it was a little hard at first to engage,” Karp said. “But a member of his host family translated. His host mother was positive and happy that the Jewish community had reached out to them. She said Adham wasn’t angry at his Jewish neighbors.” “People reach out to the Jewish community to help in situations like this,” said federation executive director Howard Gases. “We’re a humanitarian organization, and we felt our role was to make this boy feel welcome here. We performed a mitzva.” However, the impact of the tragedy that injured Adham and killed seven members of his family may cause problems for the boy in the future, Karp said. “One day, it may influence the way in which he will view the world,” Karp said. “These are his formative years, and someday there will likely be repercussions when he starts to examine what happened to him and his family.” Meanwhile, Adham has been discharged from the hospital and is staying with a host family in Montgomery, N.J. The arrangements were made by the PCRF, which will continue its involvement with Adham, according to Sosebee. The host family has asked that its name remain confidential, said Sosebee, who is one of the boy’s legal guardians while he remains in the United States. Adham will probably spend the next three or four months here as he continues his recuperation, Sosebee said. “His return home really depends on the healing process and whether there is a need for more orthopedic treatment for his injuries.” Mekel is hopeful that the boy will eventually have a normal life. “I hope everything goes well for him,” said Mekel, who added he would like to visit Adham in New Jersey. “There have been so many human tragedies on both sides. Everyone — all of us — should be committed to help when we can, however we can.” The Gaza beach explosion remains a source of tension between Israel, whose spokespeople said the media rushed to judgment, and human rights organizations and pro-Palestinian activists, who say the military’s investigation was inadequate. Jill Huber can be reached at jhuber@njjewishnews.com.

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