Women Pay the Highest Price for Israel's Gaza Blockade, Report Says

Sick women with a relative associated with Hamas were refused twice as many times as men, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel finds

The Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, August 2018.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A new report published by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel ahead of International Women’s Day finds that Israel’s blockade of Gaza exacts a higher price in health from Palestinian women than from Palestinian men.

The report looked at three categories: Female cancer patients traveling from Gaza to Israel for treatment; the withholding of treatment from patients on the grounds of kinship with Hamas members; and the withholding of treatment from patients on the grounds that a family member is in the West Bank without permission.

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PHRI said the report is based on an analysis of hundreds of patients who contacted it in 2017 and 2018, asking for help in leaving the Strip to get medical attention. It was also based on the number of applications to exit the territories for treatment, from men and women, in 2017 and 2018. The figures were obtained from the coordinator of government activities in the territories through exercise of the Freedom of Information act.

The data show that among the 201 cases in which medical treatment for cancer patients was withheld or delayed in 2017 and 2018, 129 were women, compared with 72 men.

Oncologists volunteering with PHRI wrote an opinion saying that the probability of recovery for Gazans with cancer has been significantly impaired by Israel’s policy on handling their requests to leave the Strip for treatment.

In 2017, the report says, 379 patients – 208 women and 171 men – were denied permission to leave the Strip for treatment because of a family member residing illegally in the West Bank or in Israel. The trend reversed in 2018: 433 such requests were rejected, of which 246 were from men and 186 from women. In some cases the Israeli authorities cited fear that the patient himself or herself would illegally remain in the West Bank or Israel.

In the majority of rejections during the last two years, the relatives illegally in the West Bank were men.

Sick women with a relative associated with Hamas were refused twice as many times as were men. Out of 1,875 cases rejected because of family association with Hamas in the last two years, 969 were from patients; of these, 608 were from women and 361 from men.

“The report proves that in Gaza, like in other points of conflict around the world, women suffer more than men from violence and the absence of medical care,” said Mor Efrat, head of the occupied territories division in PHRI. 

Even absent any intention to target women, Israel needs to understand that its policy of blockading Gaza has gender-related implications, she said. Israel needs to create a policy assuring minimal harm to women in compliance with UN Resolution 1325, and to rethink its sanctions on Gaza based on the harm done to women, Efrat said.