For Some Palestinians, Cutting Off Cooperation With Israel Means No Medical Treatment

To get essential medical care in Israel, Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza require a permit, but the PA has stopped applying for them

Jack Khoury
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Palestinian cancer patients take part in a protest to demand to travel for treatment, Gaza December 22, 2016
Palestinian cancer patients take part in a protest to demand to travel for treatment, Gaza December 22, 2016Credit: MAJDI FATHI / NurPhoto
Jack Khoury

The halt in cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel has left hundreds of sick Palestinians who were meant to be treated in Israel and the West Bank unable to receive treatment. Palestinian patients in Gaza complain that during the past two weeks, all their attempts to coordinate their exit through the Erez checkpoint have been refused.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights have warned that there has been a spike in the number of Palestinian patients who have contacted the organizations for help getting medical treatments that aren’t available in their area.

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The patients said that the Palestinian agencies that coordinate their transit with the Israeli authorities have stopped submitting their requests for exit permits. In addition, the Palestinian Health Ministry is refusing to make appointments in Israeli hospitals for patients from the West Bank and Gaza, and won’t issue certificates of coverage to pay for treatment in Israel. As a result, Israeli hospitals are refusing to hospitalize transplant patients who need to return to them for post-op rehabilitation.

Both organizations note that for patients in Gaza the situation is extremely grave, because most of them get treatment in Israel, the West Bank or East Jerusalem but require an official Palestinian agency to request their entry permit. This contrasts with patients in the West Bank, who can in theory apply to the Israeli District Coordination and Liaison Office directly.

“The situation was difficult even before the coronavirus and the halt in coordination, but now we’re talking about a horrifying situation where the most desperate people are paying the price for the halt in coordination,” said Samir Zaqout of the Al Mezan Center.

Before the coronavirus crisis, between 2,200 and 2,500 people would leave Gaza monthly for treatment in Israel or the West Bank. In April this dropped to 159 people because of the coronavirus restrictions, and in recent days around just five people a day who are in a very serious condition are being permitted to leave.

Ghada Majadle, the director of the occupied territories department at Physicians for Human Rights, said, “As the entity that controls the territory, the crossings and all the Palestinians’ living conditions, and as the creator of this failed permit system, Israel is responsible for finding a quick solution so that patients can move freely to receive medical treatment.” She added that while there are now hundreds of patients waiting for treatment, soon there will be thousands.

Among the patients who have contacted the organization seeking help to enter Israel for treatment are: Two leukemia patients, aged 25 and 46, from Nablus, whose regular treatments at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem in Jerusalem were stopped because they can’t get a certificate of coverage from the PA; a lung-transplant patient, aged 37, whose treatment at Beilinson Hospital, Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva was stopped because the PA refused to pay the 900 shekel fee per visit; an 8-month-old from Gaza with heart problems, who can’t leave to be treated at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer because the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee won’t submit the request for his exit permit; and a 24-year-old Gaza woman who needs ongoing treatment in the West Bank to deal with orthopedic problems, who also can’t get the Palestinian committee to request a permit.

At the same time, human rights groups also see the PA as responsible for finding a solution for these patients. Two weeks ago, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that Gazan patients would be treated in the Strip and that the government in Ramallah would help strengthen the health system there. A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that in urgent cases the PA would ask a third party like Egypt or the United Nations to coordinate the exit of patients from the Strip.

However, human rights activists in Gaza say that despite Shtayyeh’s declaration, the Gaza health system, even with external agencies supplying health services, cannot provide all the required treatments, especially if the patients need complex radiation treatment or treatments requiring radioactive materials.

Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said it still allows for Gazans to leave the Strip for Israel for life-saving treatment. "We stress that every request is being examined... in accordance with the set criteria and security considerations."

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