Gaza Infant Dies After Heart Surgery Postponed Due to Cessation of Coordination With Israel

Meanwhile, human rights organizations petition Israel to guarantee freedom of movement for Palestinians regardless of agreements with Palestinian Authority

Jack Khoury
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The grandmother of Omar Yagi displays a picture of him in Gaza City, June 22, 2020.
The grandmother of Omar Yagi displays a picture of him in Gaza City, June 22, 2020. Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury

An infant from the Gaza Strip died last week, after his scheduled heart surgery in Israel was postponed due to a freeze in coordination between Palestinian organizations and Israel.

Omar Yaghi, who was 8 months old, was supposed to undergo surgery at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer on May 24, but less than a week before the operation the Palestinian Authority declared a cessation of coordination with Israel in protest of its intent to annex West Bank settlements and territories.

The Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee refused to send the family’s request for an exit to the Israeli military unit responsible for civil affairs, the Coordination and Liaison Administration in the Gaza Strip. Omar’s family tried to act indirectly, via Physicians for Human Rights. Israel made an exception and accepted the request from the organization, but did not respond to it.

Another operation was scheduled but three days before, on June 18, Omar died from a cardiac illness.

The family of Omar Yagi look at a TV screen displaying pictures of him in Gaza City, June 22, 2020.
The family of Omar Yagi look at a TV screen displaying pictures of him in Gaza City, June 22, 2020. Credit: AFP

Yaghi’s story is not unusual, and as Haaretz recently reported, many patients, mainly in Gaza, were harmed by the cessation of coordination between the PA and Israel. Hundreds of Palestinian patients found themselves unable to obtain exit permits for treatment in hospitals in in Israel, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Several human rights organizations tried assisting, but explained that they could not replace the PA.

The patients under discussion are seriously ill, including many cancer patients. Human rights organizations said that since the freeze by the PA, they receive dozens of requests daily from patients requiring treatments that are unavailable where they live – most from the Gaza Strip. They claim that as a result of the new Palestinian policy, Israeli hospitals have refused to hospitalize patients who underwent transplants in Israel or the West Bank and asked to return for post-surgical rehabilitation.

The PA is working to provide for the needs of the patients in Gaza hospitals, and that some are sent to international organizations such as the Red Cross if treatment is unavailable in Gaza hospitals.

“As always in every such battle, we are paying the price,” a Gaza resident whose daughter is battling cancer told Haaretz. “The PA wants to pressure Israel and stops the coordination and Israel conditions every exit on coordination with the PA in order to pressure it. There are also power struggles between the PA and Hamas over support for the Gaza health care system,” the father said, “We’re paying a high price that will also cost human lives.”

Due to the death of the infant and other similar cases, human rights organizations recently turned to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, demanding a guarantee of freedom of movement for Palestinians who have to leave Gaza, without having to depend on Palestinian coordination organizations. The request was also sent to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

In the letter, Physicians for Human Rights, HaMoked, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Gisha and Adalah demanded that Israel immediately waive the bureaucratic restrictions for submitting requests for entry permits, and enable immediate entry from Gaza for medical and humanitarian purposes.

The organizations are also demanding that Israel arrange a new mechanism, through which Gaza residents will be able to submit requests for exit permits without resorting to the Civil Affairs Committee, and make details of the new mechanism available to the public.

“It was Israel that created the permits regime,” said the organizations, “and it decides independently and exclusively on criteria for issuing them. The PA, through the Civil Affairs Committee, is only a secondary factor, responsible for regulating movement. Therefore, a cessation of the committee’s coordination activity doesn’t change Israel’s obligations and doesn’t reduce its obligation to ensure the continuation of traffic at the border crossing.”

Israeli sources confirmed in a conversation with Haaretz that as of today, there is no entity with which they can work in an orderly manner. Since the declaration of a coordination freeze, they say, individual coordination is carried out via human rights and international organizations.

COGAT headquarters said in response: “As a policy, COGAT keeps allowing, also at these times, entrance of residents from the Gaza Strip for life-saving medical treatment and in other humanitarian cases.” They said that the Erez Crossing is “ready and well prepared” to facilitate transfers.

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