A decade ago, after 13 years of working and living in the glitzy Persian Gulf city of Dubai, Hussam returned to his hometown with a secret that he's kept since then. He tested positive for HIV at a time when AIDS was still virtually unknown in the Middle East. He remained largely symptom-free until the first day of 2005, when he awoke from a New Year's Eve party to find himself blind in his right eye from viral retinitis, an opportunistic infection that signaled the progression of his disease. Now, in this West Bank city of just under 40,000 residents, he copes with medication shortages and security clearances for hospital visits—a set of circumstances perhaps unique to this time and place. Such is the life of a Palestinian with AIDS.
With the election of Hamas—classified by much of the West as a terrorist organization—
to the Palestinian Legislative Council, the government lost most of its foreign aid this spring, leaving its budget decimated, doctors and nurses unpaid for months and hospitals' medicinal stocks drastically depleted. For Palestinians living with HIV/AIDS, that means their government-supplied medication—hard to come by even in good times—is falling far down the list of their nation's priorities.
But the nearest specialized clinics that offer testing and treatment are in Israeli hospitals. To access those clinics, Arabs need permission to cross checkpoints into Israel—and both the permit process and the checkpoints themselves have become infinitely more strict since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000. While Israeli authorities have issued more than 20,000 permits for general hospital visits to West Bank and Gaza residents this year, a small number of patients are not allowed to travel unless they are accompanied to the hospital by armed security; another 600-odd patients from Gaza, a more volatile region and more of a Hamas stronghold, have been refused entry outright.