Israel delays half of Gazans seeking to leave Strip for medical care, WHO says

All those who seek permission are patients whom the Palestinians have allowed to leave Gaza and for whom they’ve committed to pay

The World Health Organization has revealed that Israel delayed about half of those seeking to exit the Gaza Strip to be treated in Israeli hospitals in May, with similar statistics for the preceding months.

According to the WHO examination, of the 2,282 requests submitted to the Coordination and Liaison Administration to the Gaza Strip in May, 47.2 percent were approved, 2.1 percent were refused, while 50.7 percent were held up with no explanation, causing the patients to miss their appointments for examinations or treatments. Often these are people who had previously received exit permits for treatment.

Those whose responses were delayed in May included 255 children under age 18 and 141 people over 60. In April, 39 percent of the responses were delayed. According to the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, during the first half of 2017, four women, three children and two men died during their lengthy waits for an exit permit. All those who seek permission to leave from the CLA office at the Erez Crossing are patients whom the Palestinians have allowed to leave Gaza and for whom they’ve committed to pay.

Patients often approach human rights groups like Al-Mezan for aid when their attempt to get the Palestinian coordinating committee to intervene fails to bring results. Al-Mezan accompanied 47-year-old Etimad Rabee of Rafiah, who died last week while waiting for a permit to be treated in Jerusalem.

Ibrahim Rabee said Sunday that his wife had contracted colon cancer two years ago. At first he would accompany her to her treatments at the A-Najah Hospital in Nablus. Her condition improved, but then the Palestinian Authority delayed her exit for treatment. In April, when the PA commitment to cover her treatment was obtained, Rabee asked for an exit permit from the CLA. The request was approved, but on condition that someone other than her husband chaperone her and thus her exit was delayed. In May she was again required to change her chaperone, and two requests submitted in July never got a response. This month she was again allowed to leave, once again on condition that a different person accompany her. By the time the travel companion got the CLA’s approval, Rabee’s condition had so deteriorated that she could not be transported by ambulance and she died on August 8.

Rabee’s experience is hardly unique. After several months of waiting and after the intervention of the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel organization, Aziza Kanos of Khan Yunis got an exit permit. Kanos, 38, contracted thyroid cancer 10 years ago. After she had her thyroid gland removed in Gaza, doctors recommended she undergo biennial treatments with radioactive iodine, a treatment not available in Gaza.

The CLA approved her travel a few times to be treated in Hebron and Ramallah, but recently Palestinian hospitals have been refusing to take patients from Gaza because the PA was not paying the hospital bills it owed them. As a result, the PA agreed to fund Kanos’ treatment at Hadassah University Hospital at Ein Kerem. But since August of last year, all her requests to the CLA were stuck in the examination stage. At the end of June she approached Physicians for Human Rights, but then she again missed her appointment at Hadassah because her request was “under examination.” In early August she was allowed to leave. She is meant to return for another treatment in two months. “I’m afraid that when my appointment comes, the answer will once again be that my exit request is being examined,” Kanos said.

Siham al-Tatri from Gaza, who has lymphatic cancer, is being treated at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem. But since April and for two subsequent months, she could not get an exit permit to receive treatment until Physicians for Human Rights intervened, obtaining approvals for June and for early August. Like al-Tatri, N.S., 33 and a mother of four, was one of the 10 cancer patients who have approached Physicians for Human Rights for help. Since June of last year, when she had her thyroid removed, her requests to leave Gaza for biennial treatment – first in Hebron and then at Hadassah, were refused.

The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the territories said, “Even as we seek to distinguish between Hamas and the [other] residents, some 400 people are allowed to enter [Israel] daily for medical needs and a variety of other reasons.”

Ran Goldstein, the director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said, “There must be a drastic change in Israeli policy toward the exit of patients and toward Gaza in general. The fact that patients sometimes don’t get answers for months is cruel and the weakest population pays the price.”

With regard to Rabee’s death, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said, “Her entrance to receive treatment in Israel was approved by the CLA and this permit was used during May and June a number of times.

“Because of a security issue that arose with regard to the patient’s husband, at the end of June the CLA asked the Palestinian Civilian Committee for details of an alternative chaperone for the patient. The civilian committee took two weeks to transfer details about the alternative chaperone (the patient’s sister), and her details were passed on for a security check. The crossing of the patient herself was not prevented at any time; she had the option of entering Israel without a chaperone but she wanted to be accompanied.

“In instances where the Palestinian Authority sends requests, particularly if they are defined as urgent, the CLA coordinates the transfer of the patients immediately, at any time of day, in order to save lives. This activity is carried out daily at the Erez Crossing, through which Gaza residents pass for medical treatment. For example, in 2017, from January to the end of July, 490 ambulances were arranged for the urgent transport of patients and their chaperones to hospitals in Israel, Judea and Samaria, and abroad.”