Israel Tightens Restrictions on Gaza Palestinians Seeking Medical Treatment

Maximum age of patient chaperones who must undergo a security check was raised from 35 to 55, meaning anyone younger than 55 won’t be able to get permission, Palestinians say.

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The Erez Crossing with the Gaza Strip, in 2014.
The Erez Crossing with the Gaza Strip, in 2014. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Palestinian committee that fields requests from Gazan residents to seek medical treatment in Israel or the West Bank has asked Israeli authorities to reconsider a new restriction that could prevent many Gazans from getting such treatment.

Israel recently decided to raise the maximum age of patient chaperones who must undergo a security check from 35 to 55. Previously, anyone under 35 who wished to accompany an ill person to Israel had to undergo a security check. Practically speaking, this meant that only those over 35 were able to get a chaperone’s permit. Under the new regulations, all those 55 and under now require a security check. Gazan sources said that based on the committee members’ experience, this means anyone younger than 55 won’t be able to get permission.

Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement said the new regulation poses a significant obstacle for Gazan patients, especially children. Gazan sources note that in many cases, the parents of sick children are in their 20s and the grandparents in their 40s, which means that even grandparents would have difficulty obtaining a permit to serve as a chaperone.

The committee also noted that Israel has reduced the categories of illnesses for which it will approve entry for treatment. People with kidney and eye diseases, as well as neurological and orthopedic problems, are having a hard time getting medical entry permits. The committee said Israel had explained this decision by saying patients with these illnesses tended to delay returning to Gaza.

The committee said that in recent weeks, there had been a reduction in the Israeli military’s approval of requests for entry permits for patients in these categories. Physicians for Human Rights, which assists patients who have been refused entry by Israel, said that since August more than half of those asking the NGO for help fall into one of these four categories. Moreover, an increasing number of patients who obtain permits are interrogated at the Erez border crossing, and that the authorities also make it difficult for patients who received lengthy treatments abroad to return to their homes in Gaza.

Dr. Mahmoud Dahar, director of the Gazan branch of the World Health Organization, said that while in 2010 and 2011, 94 percent of the applications to the committee for medical entry permits got approved by Israeli authorities, that rate has been dropping and as of October of this year, only 69 percent of the requests have been approved.

The Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said that Gazan residents continue to enter Israel to receive medical treatment that is not available in Gaza, and a patient who wants a chaperone with him can have one in accordance with the established criteria and subject to a security check. A military source said the only criterion that had changed was the age range for chaperones’ security checks, and that this had been a decision by the Shin Bet security service after a number of incidents in which the chaperone permits were misused.

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