Twilight Zone / Crippling bureaucracy
Three Palestinians seriously injured by work accidents in Israel have traveled here for years to receive treatment, but now they're facing a series of insurmountable obstacles
Mohamed Awada, a disabled and sick 52-year-old man on crutches, applied to the Civil Administration to gain access to Israel for the ongoing medical treatment he requires following a work accident in Israel. This is what Second Lt. Ben Kahila, the deputy commander of the Tarqumiya branch of the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, wrote on his form: "Your request is rejected. Reason for the rejection: No application was received in order to receive the permit under the terms of a security firm."
These monstrous words were accompanied by an oral explanation: Awada has to hire a private security man, at a cost of $200 an hour, to escort him - from the moment he enters Israel until he leaves - every time he needs medical treatment. Awada, who is in need of frequent treatment, cannot afford the luxury of a security guard. In the past month, since being informed of this requirement, he has missed all his appointments for treatment. As a result, his pains have intensified and his suffering increased.
His physician, Dr. Lev Langerman, a specialist in pain and anesthesia at the Clalit HMO clinic in Jerusalem's Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, said this week: "I have known Mohamed for years. He is a patient in our clinic. We give him treatment to reduce the intensity of the pains he suffers from. True, we are not talking about a life-threatening situation, but pain, too, is no little suffering."
Awada groans and hunches with pain. He and many Palestinians who were injured in work accidents in Israel were officially recognized as being disabled by the National Insurance Institute, which paid for their treatment by law. This week, we met three disabled men who for years had entered Israel for treatment but in the past month have been refused entry by the Civil Administration for odd reasons.
The meeting took place in the office of Musa Abu Hashhash, the Hebron-based field-worker for the human rights group B'Tselem. The three asked for his organization's help so they can get to the medical institutions in Israel which they had been visiting for years - until the Civil Administration made it impossible. Three men in their fifties, scarred from multiple operations, suffering from a range of ailments, two of them on crutches. All three were seriously injured while doing construction work in Israel. They have brought stacks of documents, medical certificates, permits and authorizations of all kinds, kept in perfect order in file folders.
One of them produced no fewer than 170 entry permits for Israel which he received in the past few years - but now he too has been turned away. They have all been unemployed since being injured, have many children, speak Hebrew from years of working in Israel, and live in the southern Hebron Hills area, less than an hour's drive from Jerusalem, the city that is now barred to them. They are caught up in the bureaucracy of the Civil Administration.
Mohamed Awada, the father of eight children, lives in the town of Idna. He was injured in January 1992 on the roof of a building, when a heavy iron mold fell on his back. His spinal cord was broken in two places, his entire left leg has been in a brace since the injury, and he walks with a crutch. He has had four operations over the years, two in Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, Jerusalem, and two at Assaf Harofeh, near Tel Aviv. He contracted serious diseases (which we will not elaborate on here ) and has been treated all along at Hadassah and in Clalit HMO clinics in Jerusalem through the NII.
In the first few years he received three-month entry permits to Israel. The last of those permits expired in November 2007. Two weeks before that date, Israeli army and Shin Bet forces raided his home in search of his wanted son, Khalil, who is now 30. "Captain Yuval" from the Shin Bet security service told him at the time that if he did not hand over his son, he would be denied entry permits to Israel for medical treatment. The captain gave him two hours to turn in his son; Awada said he did not have a plane with which to find his son in such a short time. Khalil was arrested a day later, but since then his father had a hard time obtaining entry permits. After B'Tselem and another organization, Physicians for Human Rights, became involved in the case, Awada was again given entry permits, but only for a few hours or a day. He needs regular treatment once every few weeks.
A little over a month ago, on June 2, Awada was told by the Civil Administration officer: "You can no longer enter Israel alone. You need a security firm to take you in." "Where am I supposed to come up with a security firm," the hobbled security risk asked. "They will wait for you at the checkpoint," the officer replied. "And who will pay for it?" "You will pay." "How much?" "Every hour, $200."
Awada points out that every visit to a clinic or a hospital takes about three hours, including traveling time, which comes to $600 a day per treatment, a sum he cannot even afford to dream about. Since June 2, Awada has not received medical treatment of any kind. He had about ten scheduled appointments for checkups and treatments, including regular intravenous painkilling injections, but missed all of them. On June 15 Awada missed his appointment in the mental health clinic for adults in Jerusalem; the following day he did not show up for an appointment with his orthopedist, Dr. Alexander Rubinstein; on June 22 he did not arrive at a gastrointestinal clinic; and a day earlier he was prevented from going to the pain clinic at Hadassah. It's all documented. "Since then I feel a fire in my back all the time," Awada says. "Infernal pains. I can't walk more than a few steps at a time, and a few days ago I fell and hurt myself."
Yusuf Selimiya, 50, is the father of six children from two wives in Idna. In March 2005, he was injured in a work accident in Kibbutz Gat, where he was working on a construction project for a contractor from Rishon Letzion. The palm of one hand is permanently set, he uses crutches to get around. He has had five operations - two on his hand and three on his back - at three Jerusalem hospitals: Hadassah, Bikur Holim and Shaare Zedek. He is the one with 170 permits, and here is the latest document: "Report of refused requests, June 21, 2011: Health coordinator reports that the above sets appointments, takes permits and enters Israel with them, but does not go to the hospitals." Signed by Second Lt. Ben Kahila.
Selimiya is a patient at the pain clinic in Kiryat Moshe and receives injections under X-ray screening at Hadassah - everything is meticulously documented in his faux-leather black bag. Here is the "travel ticket for work accident victims," which he has to have stamped for every visit to a clinic or hospital in Israel. The last stamp bears the date May 19, 2011. Since then, he has not been allowed to enter Israel. Selimiya says that if he does not get a voucher for a hospital he goes to an HMO clinic instead - maybe that is why he is suspected of not showing up for treatments.
The third disabled man is Salem Abu Haltem, 58, from Tarqumiya, a father of nine. He was struck by a crane while working on a construction job in Rishon Letzion in August 2004. His shoulder was shattered and his hand injured. He underwent three orthopedic operations in Kaplan Hospital, Rehovot, and since then has needed frequent medical treatment. Since April 28, the Civil Administration has blocked him from entering Israel for the treatments. He has missed six appointments and has not yet received a permit for his next appointment, scheduled for July 14, to get a biweekly infusion of the painkiller Lidocaine at the Kiryat Moshe clinic. It's claimed that he too doesn't arrive for treatments, and suspects that the Israeli health authorities are colluding with the Civil Administration to create ever more obstacles and prevent him and his friends from receiving their frequent and expensive treatments.
A spokesperson for the Civil Administration failed to respond by press time.
Awada, Selimiya and Abu Haltem get up to have their picture taken together. All they ask is to be allowed to enter Israel, for the medical treatments to which they are entitled by law. They hobble slowly, leaning on their crutches, being careful not to trip, their faces distorted with pain.