Medical Treatment Not Available in the Territories? Israel Should Pay for It

Ran Goldstein
Ran Goldstein
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A Palestinian cleaner sanitizes a renal unit as patients undergo dialysis treatment in a hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVDI-19) crisis, in the southern Gaza Strip
Ran Goldstein
Ran Goldstein

Not long ago, an 18-year-old from Nablus died in Sheba Medical Center while awaiting a transplant of a device estimated to cost $120,000 (after a discount by the company and private fundraising). The youth, who had undergone an artificial heart implant in India a year ago, had to be hospitalized a few months ago in Israel, first at Beilinson Hospital and then at Sheba. Despite the doctors’ best efforts and even though there is a treatment that had a very good chance of saving his life, he died because no one was found to pay for it.

Tragic stories like this are not unusual. Haroun Abu Aram, for example, has been in a rehabilitation hospital for months. He was wounded by a soldier’s gunfire in the South Hebron Hills when Israel Defense Forces troops came to confiscate the generator that his family was using. His continued hospitalization depends on the goodwill of donors and activists who keep fundraising to cover the monthly cost of his hospital stay – 90,000 shekels ($28,000)!

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The Health Ministry and Defense Ministry have declined to take responsibility for his situation and pay for his care, even though it is quite obvious, and the army has also admitted, that the shooting was not deliberate.

For decades, Palestinian patients, whose lives could have been saved or whose health could have been greatly improved, have fallen victim to Israel’s policy of deepening the occupation, with the financial burden being borne by the Palestinian Authority and donor countries.

The blockade of the Gaza Strip, the imposition of a policy of non-development and the restrictions of the occupation are stifling the Palestinian economy, particularly its ability to develop its health care system. And so we have a situation where vital treatments are not available in Gaza and some are also not available in the West Bank.

Nevertheless, since the Oslo Accords, Israel has treated the medical care that Palestinians from the territories receive in its hospitals the same as medical care for tourists (albeit for a reduced fee), and has ignored its responsibility for creating the dependency on receiving such medical treatment in Israel.

Data collected by the Knesset Information and Research Center show that the total revenue for the Israeli health care system in the years when the PA would refer patients here came to more than 200 million shekels a year. Palestinian sources cited a figure of $120 million at the time. Either way, it is quite a hefty sum.

At Physicians for Human Rights, we receive dozens of inquiries from Palestinian patients, the vast majority of whom are critically ill people in need of medical treatment that cannot be found in Gaza or the West Bank. They won’t obtain the treatment in Israel just because they cannot afford to pay for it – and because the PA, with is meager resources, is unable to finance it, and Israel does not recognize its responsibility and obligation to do so. The physicians who contact us are left helpless, torn between their oath and the political reality.

In the past two and a half years, the PA changed its referral policy, so that many patients who previously received a referral and were treated in Israel for payment transferred by the PA no longer receive such referrals. Instead, the PA, whose health care system has been in a protracted economic crisis, announced that it would refer patients to Egypt and Jordan, and that it also wants to upgrade the capabilities of its own health care system and build it up further.

Despite this move, for many Palestinians, the best solution to their health issues is still to be found in Israel. But Israel is not willing to treat them in the absence of a financial commitment.

We are living in a reality where on the one hand, Israel has controlled the occupied territories and millions of Palestinians for 54 years now, while continuously infringing on their right to health and appropriate medical care, and on the other hand, especially since the Oslo Accords, Israel preserves most of the power, authority and control for itself, but places responsibility on the PA, which accepts it.

The time has come to change this equation and save the lives of Palestinians who are under Israel’s responsibility. Israel cannot go on maintaining the occupation and its control over Palestinians while acting as if it has no responsibility for the situation. At the very least, Israel should supply and pay for medical treatments that are not available in the occupied territories. This is its legal and moral responsibility.

The writer is the director of Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

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