Israel Can't Block Palestinian Wounded in Protests From Treatment in West Bank, Court Rules

Gaza man already lost one leg after government said that while he meets medical criteria, participation in demonstrations means request to enter Ramallah can be refused

Yousef Karnaz after his leg amputation, April 2018
Salah Haj Yahya/Doctors for Human Rights

A Palestinian man wounded by Israel Defense Forces fire during demonstrations on the Gaza border last month must be allowed to enter the West Bank for medical treatment to save his remaining leg, the High Court of Justice ruled unanimously on Monday.

The man, Yousef Karnaz, lost a leg after he was wounded during the Land Day demonstrations. The government had argued that although he met the medical criteria for a transfer to the West Bank, the fact that his wounds had resulted from his participation in the protests meant he could be denied entry.

In their ruling, Justices Uri Shoham, George Karra and Yael Willner said they were not persuaded that the government had fully considered whether the circumstances in Karnaz’s case justified deviating from normal procedure. “There’s no dispute over the fact that the medical treatment the petitioner needs to prevent the amputation of his leg is unavailable in the Gaza Strip," they wrote. "Therefore, the petitioner is included among the cases in which entry to Israel is to be permitted for the purpose of passage to Ramallah.”

The justices added that there is undisputedly no information indicating that Karnaz is a security threat. “The respondents could not point to even one instance in the past in which the state had prevented passage for medical treatment under similar circumstances,” they wrote. The justices added that they were not persuaded that the government had made a careful assessment of Karnaz’s particular circumstances, including the possible consequences if he wasn’t moved to Ramallah.

Karnaz, who spoke with Haaretz last week, said he was a novice journalist who had been at the demonstration to practice his photography. “I was hit by two bullets; one of them smashed my left leg and the other causes a serious injury to my right leg,” he said. “I don’t want to lose my second leg,” he said.

Another Palestinian, Mohammed Alajuri, was also forced to undergo a leg amputation after he was shot during the demonstrations and was refused entry to Ramallah for further treatment, even though he also met the medical criteria. Both men claim that their amputations could have been avoided if the government had not refused their urgent requests to be transferred.

The two were being treated at Shifa Hospital in Gaza. A week ago they both petitioned the High Court for an urgent hearing with the help of the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, also known as Adalah, and the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

The government said that although it recognized that they met the medical criteria for transfer, their participation in the demonstrations made them ineligible. “The primary consideration for not responding to the petitioners’ request stems from the fact that their medical condition is a result of their participating in disturbances,” the state wrote.

The High Court did not agree to conduct an immediate hearing, and instead gave the government three days to respond to it. Because of the delay in issuing the transfer permits, both Karnaz and Aljuri each had one leg amputated.

Issam Yunis, the director of Al Mezan, said on behalf of the petitioning organizations: “It’s very grave that a basic humanitarian decision like evacuating wounded people to prevent the amputation of their legs needs to go through so many officials and hearings until it is approved. If this self-evident decision had been made in time, when the request for transfer was submitted more than two weeks ago, the amputation of the petitioners’ legs could have been prevented. Preventing urgent medical treatment is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

“The amputation of these two young men's legs could have been avoided if the state had complied with its obligation under international humanitarian law,” said Adalah attorney Sawsan Zaher. He said the government's response shows that it has a policy of punishing wounded people in danger of losing vital organs by blocking them from leaving Gaza for treatment.