Seven seriously ill Palestinian women petitioned the High Court of Justice this week, challenging Israel’s refusal to grant them entry permits from the Gaza Strip.
All the women need life-saving treatments such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery that are unavailable in Gaza, but Israel has rejected them because they are related to Hamas members.
Israel is keeping its promise to the family of 1st Lt. Hadar Goldin and has reduced the number of entry permits from Gaza. Goldin was killed in combat in the Strip in 2014; his body is still being held by Hamas. To get it returned, his family has mounted a campaign to reduce the number of humanitarian exit permits from Gaza.
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So far this year, Israel has refused permission to 769 Palestinians seeking to leave Gaza for Israel because they are “first-degree relatives of a Hamas activist.” For all of 2017 there were 21 rejections on these grounds; the figures were supplied to Haaretz by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Among the denied are people who are seriously ill, including the seven who petitioned the High Court.
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The seven women — all with either cancer or benign growths causing severe problems — filed their petition together with the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza and three Israeli organizations: Physicians for Human Rights, the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Rights in Israel. All have appointments for treatment at one of two Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem: the Augusta Victoria Hospital or Makassed Hospital.
One petitioner, identified as M.S., is a 51-year-old with stomach cancer who needs chemotherapy after the removal of part of her stomach and metastatic lymph nodes. Z.S., 31, has skin cancer that requires radiation therapy.
Nifin Habub, 40, has undergone a mastectomy and has metastases that have reached her spine, causing severe pain and requiring radiation therapy. H.S., 42, has a growth in her pituitary gland that has caused pressure and destroyed adjacent tissue including optic nerves and the pituitary gland itself. If the tumor grows, it could make the hormonal disturbances more severe and lead to blindness or even death.
Fadiya Abid, 40, needs radiation therapy to complete her treatment for breast cancer. Hala al-Arkan, 39, has a growth in her skull that seriously affects her daily functioning and has caused chronic headaches and marred her vision. She needs surgery to prevent massive cranial bleeding.
The final petitioner is Amal Abu Jama, who has already been treated twice and operated on at Makassed Hospital to remove a growth in her skull. In December she was diagnosed with various complications and needs to return to the hospital to continue her treatments.
All these women, whose treatment is paid for by the Palestinian Authority and have had appointments made for them a number of times, have waited months for a response to their requests to leave Gaza, but the refusals — based on their family relationships with Hamas members — only began arriving in May. The seven are among 13 seriously ill people who have been refused entry into Israel because they are related to Hamas members. All have approached human rights groups for assistance, but it is thought that many others are in the same situation.
The organizations petitioning the High Court say Israel’s refusal to grant entry permits for medical treatment based on first-degree family relationships with Hamas members is collective punishment. In addition, the denial-of-entry permits to the seven women contradicts statements by the Israeli government that its policy will not apply in life-threatening cases and for patients who have no “alternative treatment” in Gaza.
At the beginning of last year, the security cabinet decided to deny entry into Israel to patients who are Hamas members or their relatives. This was stated in the state’s response to a petition filed by the Goldin family in November seeking to have the decision enforced.
In an interim ruling, Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg wrote that it is doubtful the current policy carries out the security cabinet’s decision. The State Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that the decision had only been partially implemented because COGAT did not have information on all the members of Hamas and their families.
Lowest percentage since 2008
COGAT provided the data on refusal-of-entry permits to Gisha in June in response to a Freedom of Information Law request. In the first three months of this year, 833 requests for permits were rejected because of a family relationship to Hamas members, compared with 21 for all of 2017. A COGAT spokesman told Haaretz that these requests represented 529 people (from January 1 to March 31); some had submitted multiple requests.
Overall last year, 118,296 requests to enter Israel were submitted, and 47,052 were approved and 37,233 were denied. The rest were not responded to. According to the World Health Organization, 25,511 of the requests (21 percent) were for medical treatment. Of these, only 54 percent were approved, the lowest percentage since 2008.
In the first three months of this year, 27,427 requests for an exit permit from Gaza were filed — 13,066 were approved and 16,896 were rejected. (Some of the requests were submitted in 2017 but were approved or rejected only in 2018, thus there is no match between the figures of submitted and processed requests.)
The 833 requests that were rejected in the first quarter of 2018 over close family ties to Hamas represent about 5 percent of all the requests refused during that period.
COGAT did not respond to a question from Haaretz on how many of the 769 people rejected so far this year over family ties with Hamas asked for exit permits for medical reasons. It also did not respond to a question on whether a doctor took part in rejecting the requests, or to a question on whether any employee of the de facto government in Gaza, including the civil police, is considered a Hamas member.
Palestinians living in Gaza have no inherent right to enter Israel, COGAT said, and requests are therefore subject to government policies and security checks. “According to a cabinet resolution, residents of Gaza who are first-degree relatives of activists in the Hamas terrorist organization are not entitled to receive an entry permit into Israel,” the COGAT spokesman’s office said.
“Therefore, since the beginning of 2018, 769 Gaza residents were refused for this reason. The basis for the information concerning the familial relationship to activists in the Hamas terrorist organization as well as the breakdown of the criteria that define the activists of the terrorist organization is confidential security information, so it is not possible to disclose it. Similarly, it is important to emphasize that this field is not within the responsibility of the [army’s] District Coordination and Liaison Office with Gaza or the COGAT unit.”