The two Palestinian governments continue to infringe on the rights of Gazans to medical treatment. They are still quarreling over the details of a compromise in principle brokered by public figures and independent Palestinian organizations. According to the proposed compromise, Bassem Naim, the health minister in Gaza, is to reinstate the officials who answer to Ramallah, whom he dismissed from the department for referrals abroad. His counterpart from Ramallah, Palestinian Authority Health Minister Fathi Abu Maghli, is to establish a committee of independent doctors to assure transparency in the referral of patients.
The crisis started in March when Egypt - acting on a demand from Ramallah - denied entry to patients whose referrals for treatment abroad had been signed by Gaza government officials. Then, armed with old (and not unfounded) arguments regarding the cumbersome nature of the process and favoritism, the Gaza government decided on March 22 to dismiss the Ramallah officials and pledged to cover the cost of treatment itself, even in Israel.
It was a daring move, but it came at the expense of the patients, because it was expected that Israel would not honor a Hamas official's signature. The pressure the Gaza government brought to bear on Egypt was too little, too late. Only at the beginning of last week did Egypt allow patients "from" both Gaza and Ramallah to leave Rafah. Others people were also allowed to leave, provided they had suitable connections with Hamas, the Egyptian security services and international organizations.
As for the other patients, some managed to obtain the required signed permits from Ramallah to cross into Israel via the Erez crossing. But many did not; their relatives ran around among the various offices in Gaza seeking a solution while the condition of their loved ones worsened. At least 10 people are believed to have died because they did not receive treatment in time.
This cruel episode in the internal Palestinian power struggle reflects two tactics as far as the Israeli siege is concerned: The Gaza government sometimes tightens the siege itself as a means of pressuring Egypt into opening the Rafah crossing, while Ramallah sometimes makes its own use of the restrictions.
The fight over the Gaza officials did not make Gazans forget Ramallah's decision, from January this year, to stop referring Palestinian patients to Israel because of the cost of treatment. Prior to the decision, an order was issued not to send Palestinians injured in the Israeli onslaught for treatment in Israel "so as not to give the aggressor an opportunity to pride itself on its humanity." Palestinian human rights organizations thought this was a short-sighted, symbolic move; Israeli medical reports would have assisted them in their legal battle against the Israeli army over the issue of civilians who were injured in the military operation.
Meanwhile, Abu Maghli denied the existence of a sweeping order mandating "zero treatments in Israel," although in many cases treatments in Israel were ordered stopped in the middle; patients who did manage to leave for treatment in Israel are those with connections - a problem as old as the PA.
Ramallah does not take into account the fact that for Gazans - despite the obstacles the Shin Bet security service places in their way - it is cheaper and more convenient to go to Israel for treatment than to Jordan or Egypt. Either way, the reasonable argument that the money saved could be channeled into improvements in Palestinian medical care will not affect Gaza, since Israel does not allow replacement parts for broken medical equipment or materials necessary for advanced treatments into the Strip and does not allow Gazan doctors out for continuing education.
Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations argue that Israel, as the occupying power, has an obligation to continue to treat Palestinian patients.
The PA, instead of adopting this position and making freedom of movement a basic issue in negotiations, is assisting the siege on Gaza in its fruitless attempts to weaken the Hamas government.
And so Gazans in need of medical care have become human sacrifices on the altar of the internal Palestinian fight for control.
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