Israel is now requesting that Gazan women with breast cancer submit the results of biopsies and diagnostic imaging as a condition for getting a permit to seek medical treatment in East Jerusalem.
The Gaza District Coordination and Liaison Office began making these demands in July. Until then, all that was required was a referral for the medical care they needed. For years, the Israeli government claimed that the process of approving the travel permit did not question the medical needs as determined by Gaza physicians, but was merely a security check.
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In June, Khadija (not her real name), 39, was referred for urgent radiotherapy to an East Jerusalem hospital. The two requests for an exit permit that were sent to the DCO by Physicians for Human Rights–Israel went unanswered. Only the third request got a response, which included a request for the results of her imaging and biopsy. She only got her exit permit in August, two months after she had received the urgent referral.
Fadia, 32, who had a mastectomy in Gaza as well as one round of chemotherapy, had her treatment delayed by the new requirement. She missed two hospital appointments while waiting for her permit from the DCO. When Physicians for Human Rights–Israel submitted her third request, the DCO demanded her test results, which led Fadia to miss her third appointment, after having waited more than two months since she was first summoned.
Before the coronavirus pandemic began, the Palestinian Civilian Committee reported that between 2,000 and 2,500 requests for exit permits from Gaza for medical reasons were received every month. Some 35 percent of them were for cancer patients. When the virus began to spread, the committee stopped working and since then there are no reliable statistics on these requests.
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“This request by the army is a shocking and cynical use of bureaucracy by Israel to torture patients from Gaza, in particular women with cancer,” said Ghada Majadle, director of the Occupied Territories Department at Physicians for Human Rights–Israel. “The Israeli authorities must immediately halt these ridiculous demands, put medical considerations above any other and guarantee these women full and as speedy access as possible to treatment.”
In a written statement, Israel’s office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said, “The unit is operating even in these times, beyond the letter of the law and in cooperation with all the relevant agencies … to allow the exit of Gaza Strip residents, and in particular cancer patients, for lifesaving medical treatment.”
The statement added, “As part of the fair medical response given to cancer patients in the Gaza Strip, as well as to other patients, they are asked to include with their request to exit for medical treatment the necessary medical documents that testify to their medical condition, in accordance with the status of the permits and so as to be able to coordinate treatment as required. We emphasize that each request is examined on its merits by professionals in an in-depth and thorough manner, in accordance with the required criteria and subject to security considerations. Moreover, as part of its humanitarian activity, the unit allows the transfer of chemotherapy drugs to the Gaza Strip.”