A Visit to a Sick Relative in Israel? Not So Easy if You're Palestinian

Two Palestinian brothers were turned away from a Haifa hospital, which claims they refused to undergo a special physical inspection - required only of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the PA. The brothers say they were never asked to be searched

Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, 2009.
Doron Golan / JINI

Security guards at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa denied entry to the complex to a Palestinian from Jerusalem and his brother, who lives in Ramallah, to visit a hospitalized relative, an Israeli citizen. The hospital claimed that the two refused to undergo a special physical inspection, which is required for residents of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority, and therefore were not allowed to enter. The brothers say that they were not even asked to undergo an inspection, and that the behavior of the security guards, and their supervisor in particular, was tinged with racism.

Bassim Khoury, a resident of East Jerusalem with an Israeli ID card, is 59 years old. He is the CEO of the Pharmacare Group and an adviser to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. His brother, 63, is a resident of Ramallah with an ID card issued by the Palestinian Authority. He also has a special permit for Palestinian businessmen (BMC), which allows him to enter Israel at any time of day or night and exit via Ben Gurion International Airport. On the evening of Friday, March 8, the two arrived in Khoury’s car at the hospital parking lot. Khoury showed the security guard his Israeli ID. His older brother had trouble finding his documents, because he suffers from an eye disease that has almost blinded him.

>> Read more: Asked to strip by security guard, Palestinian artist refuses to fly to IsraelThe secret Palestinian doomsday weapon | Opinion

Khoury says that the security guard shouted rudely at his brother and called on A.D., the supervisor, who checked the papers again and ordered them to park outside the parking lot.

When they returned they were accompanied by another armed security guard to the pedestrian entrance, where the same A.D. was on duty. He checked their documents again, and according to Khoury once again spoke to them rudely and didn’t allow them to enter the building. Khoury and the guards spoke to each other in English.

Khoury sent a complaint to the hospital administration. In his reply, ombudsman Dr. Amos Etzioni wrote that after receiving Khoury's complaint, he had a long discussion with the person in charge of hospital security. He was provided with several videos taken from the hospital's security cameras. The recordings, he said, do not save the sound; therefore the content of the conversations could not be heard.

Members of the security staff of Israel's government hospitals, Dr. Etzioni wrote, "need to work according to the regulations of the Israel Police and Shin Bet, with regards to all visitors from the West Bank, and anyone accompanying them (even if they are Israeli, like yourself)…these regulations include, in addition to checking documents, a physical inspection [pat down]. They also require [guards] to call on the head of security and repeat the questioning for verification," he wrote.

"This is the reason you were requested to step out of the car before entering the parking lot, and why the head of security was called in," he continued. "It is my understanding that you refused a physical inspection, and were therefore denied entry to the parking lot. On your return to Rambam via the pedestrian entrance, you were asked again to undergo a physical inspection, and you once again refused. The head of security tried to explain to you and your Israeli niece that these are the regulations, but that did not convince you."

Bassim Khoury replied in a letter to Etzioni: “We were never asked to step out of the car before entering the parking lot and we never refused the physical inspection there… We were simply told we were not allowed in the parking lot… That is to say, your security lied. At the pedestrian entrance, we were never given the option to undergo a pat down.

"In fact," he added, "one of the security staff intervened in an attempt to diffuse this absurd situation, and asked me to come in for a physical inspection from the side, something I agreed to do, but D.A. ordered him not to get involved, repeating that we are not allowed in. Here again your security lied and you unfortunately accepted his lies as the truth.”

According to the hospital spokesperson, David Ratner, the instructions for a special inspection include Palestinians from Jerusalem. In a reply to Haaretz he explained that “The Rambam security guards operate according to the written regulations of the Health Ministry security division, which are derived from police instructions … Anyone with an ID from the PA and anyone with an East Jerusalem ID is required to undergo an inspection as a condition for entering the hospital," he said.

"Those visitors are asked to park on the side and to approach for an inspection at the pedestrian entrance, with a metal detector and an inspection of their belongings. A visitor who passes the inspection is permitted to park in the parking lot like any other visitor. According to the regulations, a visitor with a Palestinian/East Jerusalem ID who refuses an examination will not be permitted to enter … The plaintiffs in this case refused the examination that is required by Health Ministry regulations, and even reacted rudely to the polite explanations of the security guards.”

Ratner also wrote that the hospital rejects any attempts to imply that the situation was the result of racism or impropriety. “The security guards are employed by an external contractor and are monitored by the hospital’s security department," he wrote. "We are proud that this is a diverse group [composed] of all Israel's sectors, a fact that helps in many instances to overcome language barriers for visitors and patients. They are briefed to take into consideration the problems and pressures of those entering the gates of the hospital. The specific guard who was mentioned in your letter is considered a particularly helpful person.”

Ratner mentioned that 30 percent of all the employees at Rambam, including doctors, nurses, logistics personnel and even security guards “belong to the Arab sector,” in addition to the fact that the percentage of Arab patients at Rambam is higher than their percentage of Arabs in the Israeli population.

Dr. Etzioni, who expressed regret that the brothers were unable to visit their relative, also added: “One can argue about these regulations…. We hope that one day such regulations will no longer exist, and that the coexistence that we truly do seek to pursue here at Rambam and in Haifa will spread throughout Israel.

Khoury was the national economy minister under former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He resigned in October 2009, after PA President Mahmoud Abbas succumbed to American pressure and ordered the cancelation (“postponement”) of the vote on the Goldstone Report, a report by a UN fact-finding mission accusing Israel of war crimes, that followed Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-2009. The vote was scheduled to take place in the UN Human Rights Council.

In his letter of reply to Etzioni, Khoury expressed regret that the security guards' version of the story was accepted without question. He added, "I spent over a year with loved ones in Hadassah and Shaarei Tzedek hospitals, and I visited Israeli hospitals from Be’er Sheva to Nahariya. I was never treated like this.”