4 children injured in Gaza amid Israel-Hamas war arrive in US for medical treatment

The children were evacuated to Egypt and then flown to the U.S.

May 7, 2024, 1:13 PM

Four Palestinian children who were injured or fell ill amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war have arrived in the United States to receive medical treatment, according to an aid organization.

The children, three boys and one girl between ages 3 and 11, were evacuated to Egypt and then flown to the U.S., arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday morning to receive life-saving medical care at hospitals in New York, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas.

Nearly 15,000 children in Gaza have been killed and thousands more have been injured since the war began on Oct. 7, 2023, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many of those children have suffered fractures and severe burns that are not able to be treated in Gaza due to lack of adequate medical care and other conditions in the besieged territory.

"A lot of times, we're so far away from what's happening that when we see numbers like 15,000 children that have been killed, it doesn't really paint an image in our head," Tareq Hailat, head of the treatment abroad program at the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF), which coordinated the children's travels with assistance from the World Health Organization, told ABC News.

"When individuals in the United States are able to see these extreme, extreme images of these children, they can, at that point, realize that this is not just a number. Each one of these children have suffered difficult, difficult circumstances like this that not only affect them, but it also affects all the individuals that are associated in their life," he continued.

Rakan Aldardasawi, age 9, who was injured in Gaza, arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on May 5, 2024.
Palestine Children's Relief Fund

Since Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, and Israel retaliated with its ongoing military operations in Gaza, Israeli forces have killed at least 34,183 people in Gaza and injured 77,143 others, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. At least 1,700 Israelis have been killed and 8,700 others injured by Hamas or other Palestinian militants, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The PCRF has evacuated 100 children out of Gaza into Egypt so far, 60 of whom have been taken to other countries to receive medical treatment, Hailat said. Of those children, seven are in the U.S., including the four latest arrivals.

One of the children, Fadi Al Zant, 6, suffers from severe malnourishment coupled with cystic fibrosis, according to the PCRF. Because of what the U.N. has described as "full-blown famine" in northern Gaza, Fadi weighs about 28 pounds, about the size of a 2-year-old toddler. At his lowest weight, he weighed 25 pounds, the PCRF said.

"When you have cystic fibrosis, you need almost three times the amount of calories that a normal person needs," Hailat said. "So due to his chronic condition, he needed more calories and at the same time, he needed particular types of nutrition." In general, the caloric needs of a child with cystic fibrosis depend on their age, weight, severity of disease and other factors, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Fadi was evacuated from northern Gaza into the south, where he eventually was able to cross into Egypt before heading to the U.S. He will receive treatment at Northwell Cohen's Children Center in New York, the PCRF said.

Two of the other children – Rakan Aldardaswai, 9, and Adam Abuajawa, 11 – both have extreme injuries due to the intense fighting in Gaza, according to the PCRF.

Adam Abuajwa, 11, who suffered damage to his lower body during an airstrike in Gaza, arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on May 5, 2024.
Palestine Children's Relief Fund

Adam's family's shelter was attacked on Jan. 16, first by a grenade and then an airstrike, according to the PCRF. The second blast killed his mother and propelled Adam through the air, causing him to hit his head and also resulting in fractures to his legs, as well as third-degree burns to his foot, the PCRF said. His sister, Zaina, who is accompanying him to the U.S., was also injured in the attack.

In the case of Rakan, he was injured in November when an airstrike destroyed the house he and his family had fled to, burying him under rubble for two hours before he was found, according to the PCRF. He suffered fractures to both femurs and was left in constant pain when internal fixation surgery, which uses implanted hardware to realign broken bones, didn't work properly.

"The internal fixator went wrong, and it actually stabbed him and went out of his leg, like it's literally out of his leg," Hailat said. "And so, he needs to have those taken out and then done efficiently and correctly."

The final patient is 3-year-old Saja Bilal Junaid, who suffered third-degree burns to most of her face after an Israeli airstrike hit where she was staying at the refugee camp in Jabalia, in northern Gaza, according to the PCRF. Because there are few if any surgeons in Gaza who can treat her case and because her burns are so severe, she was taken to the U.S.

Saja Bilal Junaid, 3, arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on May 5, 2024. She suffered third-degree burns to her face after an Israeli airstrike hit her home.
Palestine Children's Relief Fund

Saja has been accompanied by her mother and youngest brother and she will undergo treatment to receive skin grafts and possibly even reconstructive surgery, Hailat said.

Hailat acknowledged to ABC News that the 100 children his organization has evacuated so far "might seem so insignificant." But he notes that the process itself is extraordinarily challenging.

"[T]he processes to pull these children out, to be able to get them visas to be able to bring them all the way to the United States, the process is just so difficult that we wish that the process can be more simple so that we can help so many more people than what we have so far," he said.

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