Dozens of female cancer patients in the Gaza Strip have launched a protest against Israel’s refusal to allow them to cross into the country to seek medical treatment. The women say the ban or delay of their treatments is a “premeditated death sentence.”
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This is the first organized public protest of Gazan patients against Israel’s ban on their medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip since the enclave's closure was enacted in 2006. The women say the protest follows a sharp rise in patients – especially cancer patients – who cannot leave Gaza for medical treatment in Israel, East Jerusalem or the West Bank after years of being allowed to do so.
The protest is spearheaded by Iman Shanan, 47, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 and whose condition has since improved due to treatment. Recently she was referred to Tel Aviv’s Assuta Hospital for an examination to locate cancerous tumors, for fear of the disease’s recurrence.
She asked to go to the hospital for the examination three times, but every time her request was denied. Shanan, who heads the NGO Aid and Hope Program for Cancer Patient Care in Gaza, told Haaretz that the protest initiative started after requests came in from numerous women, for whom the ban on receiving treatment outside Gaza was literally a fatal decree.
Shanan says the number of denials of requests to leave Gaza for treatment has risen dramatically, for reasons classified by Israel as security related.
In the last two weeks the women have demonstrated twice outside the offices of the Red Cross and the Gaza-based offices of the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, which coordinates the departure of patients from the Strip with Israeli authorities. In both protests the women carried posters demanding that they be allowed to leave for medical treatment in the West Bank and Israel. They also held a one-day hunger strike.
One of the demonstrators, Majar Naizi, 27, also a former breast cancer patient, was referred to Assuta for tests to locate cancerous cells. She had been treated in East Jerusalem in 2014 and 2015, but her request to leave for an examination scheduled this past November 1 was denied.
“My condition is deteriorating and I have to understand how to proceed,” she said this week. “I can’t take medication without understanding my condition, the doctors are thinking of giving me medicines without the examination because I can’t get a permit to have it, but it could cause me serious damage.”
Sausen Kadih, 49, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last June, was at first cleared to undergo treatment in a Ramallah hospital, but in the past month the permits were not issued and her request was denied. The Israeli army has not replied to her requests to keep the appointments.
Sihan al-Tatri, 53, suffers from lymphatic leukemia and must undergo chemotherapy treatments once every three weeks in the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. Tatri entered Israel twice and received the treatments, but when she wanted to have the third round of treatments she was denied entry. Her request is “being examined” and she has already missed two appointments for treatment. Her next appointment has been set for Monday.
“Because of my treatment’s delay, I feel weak and have to begin the treatment all over again,” she said. “If they don’t give me a permit they are sentencing me to death. What country can agree to us dying because we didn’t get the right to medical treatment?”
Physicians for Human Rights, an NGO that helps patients from Gaza obtain permits to leave the Gaza Strip for treatment, says that over the past year the number of denials to allow patients to leave for treatments has risen by 44 percent. In 2016, 69 requests were denied, compared to 48 denied in 2015 and 23 in 2014, the NGO said.
PHR asked the coordinator of government activities in the occupied territories (COGAT) to enable some patients’ departure from Gaza for treatment. COGAT said in response that Israel’s “civilian policy” regarding Gaza remains as it was, and that hundreds of people enter Israel via the Erez checkpoint to receive medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank and abroad, and that their number has even grown in recent years.
In response, the Shin Bet said that it "allows residents of the Gaza Strip to enter Israel for medical treatment in accordance with the policies determining the movement of people between the State of Israel and the Gaza Strip and in the absence of any security impediment. Of late, we have witnessed repeated attempted by terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip, which take advantage of Israel's willingness to grant entry to some patients for humanitarian reasons, to carry out terror attacks in Israel."
According to the statement, "in this context, it is worth remembering that there have been a number of recent cases in which terror organization cynically took advantage of patients seeking medical treatment outside of Gaza, were given entry permits to Israel and in whose possessions we found utensils and money designed for use in terror attacks. Therefore, the requests that we receive from Gaza for entry permits into Israel are thoroughly vetted before any such permit is issued.'
The Shin Bet statement also related to the women mentioned in the above article. "Iman Shanan asked for permission to enter Israel to attend a conference in support of cancer patients. She did not submit a request to enter Israel for medical treatment. We have no record of any request from Majar Naizi. Sihan al-Tatri submitted her request to enter Israel for medical treatment in November and her request was granted.'
A previous version of this article omitted the Shin Bet's response, which now appears in full.