Palestinians walks in front of a painting at Erez Crossing, North Gaza Strip, on March 21, 2016 MAJDI FATHI / NurPhoto

Otherwise OccupiedThe Goldins’ Revenge on Gaza’s Cancer Patients

In the crusade to return their son’s remains, the family demanded reduction of the number of humanitarian exit permits issued to Gazans, causing horrific pain to sufferers of life-threatening diseases

Another achievement for the Goldin family: Israel has officially admitted that it is not permitting people with cancer and other serious illnesses to leave the Gaza Strip for treatment if – according to Israel’s claims – the patients are first-degree relatives of Hamas members. Without shame or embarrassment, officials of the District Coordination and Liaison unit signed on to this explanation for rejecting the applications of the patients seeking to leave Gaza.

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Thirteen such cases are known to the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, in the Strip, and to Physicians for Human Rights, in Tel Aviv. The number of rejected patients is likely higher, with more on the way. Hadar Goldin was killed in combat during the 2014 war, which took the lives of 1,391 Palestinian civilians and six Israeli civilians.

In their crusade to return the remains of their son, held by Hamas, one of the Goldins’ demands has been to reduce the number of exit permits that Israel issues to Gazans for humanitarian reasons. And what is more humanitarian than a cancer patient seeking to leave the Strip, with an accompanying person, for treatment that’s not available there?

We can’t know whether the ban on leaving is bringing the Goldin family any closer to the moment when they will receive their son’s remains. What is certain is that withholding essential treatment adds horrific pain to the sufferers of life-threatening illnesses, and to their great mental anguish and that of their families. Revenge, how sweet you are.

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For the convenience of those who haven’t read or don’t recall any of the 7,968 articles published on this issue, here’s a summary: From the beginning of this year until the end of July, Israel turned down exit applications from 769 residents of the Gaza Strip, citing their alleged first-degree familial relationship to a Hamas member as the reason. In 2017, only 21 such applications were refused on the same grounds, as evidenced by the official response from the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to a query from the NGO Gisha, through the Freedom of Information Law. So, there’s been “progress.”

COGAT’s spokesman’s office did not reply to my query about how many of the 769 people turned down were seeking medical treatment. But the decision to include the clause concerning family ties to a Hamas member in order to cut down on the number of humanitarian exit permits was made by Israel’s security cabinet already in January 2017.

That didn’t satisfy the Goldin family. It petitioned the High Court of Justice in November 2017, arguing that the cabinet decision was not being implemented. Apparently the statistics were not enough, either: Last year saw the lowest number of exit permits issued for Gazan patients since 2008, according to the World Health Organization.

Out of 25,522 requests to leave for medical treatment, only 54 percent were approved. The Goldin family’s goal was achieved, without any openly declared explanation yet that cited a “relationship to Hamas.”

By the way, the response to all requests to exit the Strip in 2017 (some 119,000) was even worse: Less than half (54,200) were approved. Is there a connection here to the pressure coming from the Goldin family? Only the COGAT God knows.

Following the Goldins’ petition, the state informed the High Court that COGAT did not have information on all the Hamas members in the Strip, and therefore the number of humanitarian exit permits had not been reduced as required. This is strange: We would have thought that connections between COGAT and the Shin Bet security service, including computerized information, were excellent. So, we may conclude that 2017 was devoted to diligent collection of the missing data.

Whether this is related or not, from the end of 2016, the processing of requests for exit permits began to lag. Thousands of applications – including those of Gazans suffering from illness – simply receive no answer for months. This is apparently due to a combination of simple bureaucratic foot-dragging and neglect, delay in responses by the Shin Bet, and part of the routine policy of penalizing the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.

Either way, that delay has a direct connection to the following figure: Fifty-four men and women in the Gaza Strip died in 2017 after they were unable to receive their exit permit in time to receive lifesaving treatment. Of them, according to the WHO, 85 percent were cancer patients who had appointments for tests and medical care.

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Out of about 2 million people living in the Strip, Israel permits only about 20,000 to 30,000 to exit each year. That’s a drop in the ocean. Most Gazans don’t even attempt to request a permit; they know they won’t get one. Now a new criterion has been added to the arsenal: “First-degree family relative of Hamas members” – a criterion that is in essence invalid, as is all collective punishment.

Last week seven seriously ill women who were denied permits to depart the Strip for lifesaving treatment in Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem petitioned the High Court. They were joined in their petition by four NGOs: Al Mezan; PHR; Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; and Gisha. The attorneys from Gisha who drafted the petition sent the High Court a request for an urgent hearing. Okay, so they sent a request.

By the way, some of the petitioners don’t even know who their Hamas relative is, if they have one. One knows a former prisoner, who is over 60 years old. The petitioners reminded the court that the state had clarified, in response to the Goldin petition, that reducing humanitarian permits would not apply in cases of lifesaving treatment or of medical care that’s not offered in the Strip. But the seven women are proof that the reality contradicts the words. They all need lifesaving treatment that does not exist in Gaza.

One High Court justice has already taken a stance on the matter: Noam Sohlberg. When the Goldin family submitted its petition late last year, he said that it was doubtful whether the security cabinet was implementing its decision to cut down on the number of exit permits granted for humanitarian reasons. According to media reports, that statement was intended as a criticism of the government. Now it remains to be seen what the rest of the justices think about withholding treatments from the seven women, and others in a serious predicament.

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