The Israeli occupation authorities continue to deny Palestinians of Gaza access to adequate medical care in the West Bank and Israel, preventing or delaying the passage through Erez crossing, and thereby putting the lives of dozens of critically ill Palestinian patients at risk. The patients are attempting to reach hospitals that are in close proximity to Gaza, where the healthcare services are crippled due to Israel’s closure and blockade. On 14 January 2017, a 17-year-old child with a congenital heart defect from Gaza City, died after his crossing request was refused. The patient was summoned by Israeli security services and interrogated at Erez crossing. He was denied permission to access the hospital after he refused to serve as a collaborator for the Israeli authorities, a coercive measure regularly employed on Palestinian patients in need of permits.
Al Mezan’s monitoring indicates that at approximately 4 am on Saturday, 14 January 2017, Ahmed Hasan Shubeir, 17, from Gaza City, died after Israeli authorities rejected his request for a permit to exit from Gaza to receive lifesaving medical treatment. According to his father, Ahmed had suffered from a congenital heart defect since birth and his father had accompanied him several times to Tel Hashomer Hospital, Schneider Children’s Medical Center, and Al Makassed Hospital in Israel and the West Bank. Ahmed’s health condition remained relatively stable throughout treatment, which started at birth. In February 2016, his family applied for a crossing permit, attaching medical reports showing that Ahmed’s health condition was critical. The Israeli authorities summoned his mother for an interview at Erez crossing, where they attempted to blackmail and coerce her into cooperating with the authorities in exchange for her child’s permit. She refused. After several hours of waiting at the crossing, in the end the Israeli forces allowed the child and his mother to pass.
On 10 September 2016, the child’s family applied for another permit, but received no reply. After obtaining a new hospital appointment, they applied again on 10 October 2016, again without reply. The 3 November 2016 request for a permit was replied to with a refusal. The Israeli security services then summoned Ahmed for an interview at the crossing; during the interrogation, he was coerced to serve as a collaborator for the Israeli authorities in exchange for his permit. The child refused and was denied a permit. The family obtained an appointment at the hospital for 30 January 2017, with Ahmed’s health continuing to decline. He died two weeks before the appointment.
2016 demonstrated a steep decrease in patients granted access to Erez crossing: in 2015, 77.66% of patients were granted access, whereas 61% were granted in 2016. In 2015, the Palestinian Health District Coordination Office (DCO) submitted 21,873 permit requests to the Israeli authorities, of which 16,988 were granted. In 2016, the DCO submitted 26,277 permit requests; the Israeli authorities granted 16,289 permits and rejected 1,725 requests, with the remaining applications going unanswered. By December 2016, the number of permits granted had reached an annual low. According to an official at the DCO, the Israeli authorities expanded the age group of those subject to increased security checks from 16-35 years old to 16-55, which subsequently expanded waiting times and resulted in increased rejection of permits.
Between 50-60% of the patients who were refused permits in 2016 by the Israeli authorities were people with cancer. A trend developed over the year whereby cancer patients were granted up to three permits, but not more, resulting in unfinished cancer treatment, and greatly diminished effectiveness of cancer care.
The procedures followed at Erez crossing for those who were granted a permit, in many cases amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The patients are subjected to long waiting periods and interrogation, without sufficient rest and medical care, invasive searches that are strenuous for patients, and are blackmailed and coerced. Being in possession of a permit does not necessarily entail crossing: the Israeli forces arrested nine patients and five patient-companions at Erez crossing in 2015 and 2016.
The abuse of Palestinian patients of Gaza is implemented through heightened restrictions imposed in Israel’s illegal and tightening closure, which will enter its tenth year in June 2017. The denial of adequate medical care, which amounts to ill-treatment, is in violation of treaty and customary international law, and amounts to a prohibited collective punishment. Al Mezan strongly condemns Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinian patients of Gaza and expresses remorse at the death of Ahmed Shubeir.
Al Mezan calls for:
-- An independent committee to investigate and report on the death of Ahmed Shubeir and similar cases;
-- The international community to promptly intervene to end the systematic violations of treaty and customary international law and to ensure accountability; to immediately lift the siege which amounts to a crime against humanity; and to protect patients’ lives; and
-- Increasing national and international advocacy campaigns to disclose Israel’s practices and policies that target Palestinian patients of Gaza.
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