The Israeli government is prepared to make two exceptions to its general ban, imposed this year, on allowing residents of the Gaza Strip with first-degree relatives affiliated with Hamas to enter Israel for medical treatment, a representative from the State Prosecutor’s Office told the High Court of Justice on Monday.
An exception would be made for patients who are 16 or younger and require lifesaving medical treatment offered in Israel and East Jerusalem. Other patients would be allowed to travel through Israel for treatment in the West Bank or abroad, the representative said.
Monday’s hearing was held in connection with a petition filed by seven female Gaza cancer patients who had been barred from entering Israel for treatment at Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem because they purportedly had first-degree relatives affiliated with Hamas. Two of the seven women have now been allowed out for treatment, after it was found that they did not have close family ties with Hamas.
Prosecutor Areen Safadi-Attila confirmed at the hearing that the Israeli government is aware that there are lifesaving treatments that are not available in the West Bank, but only at the Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem (annexed to Israel in 1967). The fact that the alternative the state suggests — medical treatment abroad — is expensive or involves dealing with bureaucratic, time-consuming obstacles is not, the prosecutor added, a matter for the state to be concerned about, but rather for the patients themselves to handle.
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The general prohibition on allowing relatives of Hamas members to enter Israel, for humanitarian purposes, was instituted by the Defense Ministry to apply pressure on Hamas to return two Israeli citizens held in the Strip and the remains of two soldiers, noted Safadi-Attila. She added that the suggestions to slightly ease the ban are still under elaboration.
As Haaretz reported last week, following the submission of the Gazan women’s petition and other appeals on behalf of Palestinians wounded at the Israeli-Gaza border fence, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit asked defense officials to reconsider their policy regarding access to treatment for patients with relatives in Hamas. The court has given the state until Thursday to present the attorney general’s position in its final submission of its position.
The Israeli security cabinet passed a resolution in January 2017 to reduce the number of Gazan patients allowed into Israel, purportedly affecting Hamas relatives. The Coordination and Liaison Administration for the Strip, part of the Israeli office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, adopted the National Security Council’s interpretation of the cabinet’s resolution, to the effect that patients who need lifesaving treatment not available in Gaza will be allowed to enter Israel to receive it. Indeed, some of the petitioners were treated in East Jerusalem last year, but were denied permission for continued care this year. In response to Judge Yitzhak Amit’s question, Safadii-Attila said that later on, the Ministry of Defense decided to adopt a tougher policy.
Justice Uzi Vogelman, who headed the panel at the hearing on Monday, noted that policy in effect until now had determined that permission to enter Israel for medical treatment would only be denied if the patient posed a security risk – which was not the case vis-a-vis the seven Gaza women petitioners. “Doesn’t the right to life take precedence here?” he asked.
Safadi-Attila said in response that Israel has no legal obligation to allow patients from Gaza to enter its territory.