Israeli travel ban on Gaza patients quashed by court

Fifty-four Palestinians died while waiting for Israeli permits to leave Gaza for medical treatment last year.

Mohammed Asad APA images

Israel cannot deny patients in Gaza access to medical treatment over alleged family ties to Hamas members, the country’s high court has ruled.

The court ordered the state to allow five patients to travel through the Israeli-controlled Erez checkpoint and via Israel to Palestinian hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem for treatment unavailable in Gaza.

Four human rights groups had petitioned the court late last month on behalf of seven seriously ill women in Gaza who had been denied permission to travel because they were “first-degree relatives of Hamas members,” according to Israeli occupation authorities.

After the petition was filed, Israel admitted it was mistaken in identifying two of the women as close relatives of Hamas members and said it would allow them to access long-delayed medical treatment.

But the change in status came too late for one of the women. The rights groups which had petitioned on her behalf said she is in such “grave condition that she has opted to forgo the bureaucratic process of re-submitting her application for an exit permit from Israel.”

The Palestinian and Israeli rights groups – Adalah, Al Mezan, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Gisha – welcomed the court’s decision but found it “most regrettable that it required three [high court] justices to raise a black flag over a policy that, from the very start, was clearly cruel and illegal.”

Treatment denied to pressure Hamas

The policy was a directive made in early 2017 by the Israeli government to put pressure on Hamas to release two Israeli civilians believed to be held by the group and to return the bodies of two soldiers killed in Gaza during the 2014 military offensive.

The directive was issued after the family of one of the slain soldiers demanded that the government reduce the number of exit permits for Palestinians seeking to leave Gaza for humanitarian reasons.

The state told the high court that Palestinians were being denied access to Israeli hospitals even for life-saving medical treatment. Only minors under the age of 16 were exempted from the policy, the state said.

The state also said that it would not allow Palestinians from Gaza to be hospitalized in East Jerusalem as it “considers this annexed territory,” according to a report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem along with the rest of the West Bank in June 1967, and formally annexed it in 1980. The United Nations recognizes East Jerusalem as occupied territory and last year its General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution declaring “null and void” any actions intended to alter its character, status or demographic composition.

Patient deaths

Fifty-four Palestinians are known to have died while awaiting Israeli permits to leave Gaza for medical treatment last year.

Israel approved just 1,200 of about 1,900 applications made to leave Gaza for medical care during June this year, the World Health Organization has reported.

A freedom of information request filed by Gisha revealed that during the first seven months of 2018, Israel denied exit permits to nearly 800 residents of Gaza under the directive now canceled by the high court.

Palestinians in Gaza requiring treatment in the West Bank or Israel have their cases referred to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which pays for the treatment, and then on to Israel, which has the final say in whether an individual may travel.

Patients who require multiple procedures and follow-up care are repeatedly subjected to bureaucratic delays and sometimes even interrogation and arrest at Erez checkpoint.

The result is that patients often die from diseases and conditions that could be treatable under normal circumstances.

Last week a UN official warned that essential services in Gaza would soon shut down if the purchase of emergency fuel isnt immediately funded.

Donor-funded emergency fuel has become a lifeline in Gaza after 11 years of Israeli blockade that has deflated the territorys economy and sharply increased residents dependence on humanitarian aid.

Emergency fuel is used to operate health, water and sanitation facilities, particularly backup generators at Gazas hospitals.

That warning was reiterated by the UN’s Middle East envoy on Tuesday:

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Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.