PCHR Issues New Report: Israeli Restrictions on Travel of Gaza Patients Referred for Treatment Abroad
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) issued a new report on Israeli restrictions on the travel of Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip who are referred for medical treatment abroad and denying thousands of them access to medical care. The report is titled “Israeli Restrictions on Travel of Gaza Patients Referred for Treatment Abroad,” and it is issued as part of a project promote, respect and fulfill the right to the highest attainable standard of health in the Gaza Strip. The project is funded by the European Union (EU) and continues for 3 years in partnership with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS). The project aims to improve access to health care services, legal counselling and legal assistance for Palestinian patients; to mainstream the international human rights and humanitarian law, particularly the right to health, by building the capacities of medical personnel; and to promote improved monitoring, documenting and reporting of violations of the right to health.
The report lays out the obstacles Israeli authorities impose on Palestinian patients’ travel, purposefully depriving them from medical care for their serious illnesses, treatment for which is unavailable in the Gaza Strip. The report is based on primary sources including testimonies by specialists at Ministry of Health (MOH) and its Treatment Abroad Department, the Palestinian General Authority For Civil Affairs (GACA), international non-governmental organizations (INGO) working in the health sector, as well as testimonials by Gaza patients and their families.
- The Gaza Strip’s hospitals inability to address thousands of medical cases led to the overall deterioration in the health sector and the spike in the number of patients referred for treatment abroad, bearing in mind that 350 medical machines at Ministry of Health (MOH) hospitals are out of function, 48% of medicines (including 38 types of medicine required for treatment of cancer patients) and 24% of medical disposables are unavailable.
- Israeli authorities impose a set of obstacles to deliberately deprive the Gaza Strip patients of treatment; most prominently: Denying patients treatment under the pretext that it is available in the Gaza Strip or by claiming that their diseases do not pose threat to their lives; denying patients travel without clarifying the reason; denying patients travel for treatment under pretext a related family member is in violation of Israeli law; arrest of patients or their companions at the Beit Hanoun “Erez” crossing; investigating and blackmailing patients or their companions for granting them exit permits for treatment; delaying response to patients and disregard for their treatment appointments; and imposing tight restrictions on patients’ companions.
- In 2019, IOF obstructed the travel of 8,585 Gaza patients out of 24,340 applications (35.2%) for the following reasons: 2,162 for security reasons (8.8%); 1,441 received no reply (5.9%); 3,808 received delayed responses and put under study (15.6%); 104 were required to change their companion (0.4%); 1,070 were delayed for different reasons (4.3%)
- From 2008 – 2018, IOF obstructed the travel of 51,056 out of 179,746 (28.4%) Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip referred for treatment at hospitals in the West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem and Israel. The reasons supplied by IOF for refusing patient requests for exit permits were as follows: 7,491 for security reasons (4.1%); 5,570 received no reply (3.1%); 25,015 received delayed responses and put under study (13.9%); 2,138 required to change their companions (1.1%); 10,662 patients were delayed for various reasons including awaiting results after the security interview with Israeli intelligence, classifying a patient’s condition to concern the quality of their lives rather than being a matter of life or death, unsatisfactory application, requiring the patient to reschedule their appointment or requiring patients to submit a new application.
- International humanitarian law, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Additional Protocol of 1977 guaranteed the right to health for civilians, particularly for the wounded and ill. Furthermore, the international human rights law has enriched the right of patients to access health services in a number of international covenants, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965).
- Through 2008 – 31 December 2019, PCHR provided legal aid to 1,700 patients that were unable to travel for various reasons, including lacking financial coverage or not having a scheduled appointment at a hospital.
- PCHR assisted 6,244 patients that were denied travel by submitting complaints and objections with the Israeli Humanitarian Cases Centre, and succeeded in helping 2,642 (42.3%) travel for medical treatment abroad.
The report presented the following recommendations for the international community to pressure Israel to:
- Stop its policy of imposing strict restrictions on the Gaza Strip patients, who are referred for treatment abroad, as it deprives them of enjoying their right to travel and receive medical treatment;
- Remove all obstacles that aim to deprive the Gaza Strip patients of travelling abroad;
- Allow all patients, who suffer from serious diseases and whose treatment is not available in the Gaza Strip’s hospitals, to travel for medical treatment in the hospitals they are referred to immediately and without any delay;
- Urgently stop its policy of distinguishing between the patients whose cases are “lifesaving” and cases “affecting quality of life” according to Israel’s classification;
- Stop the closure policy in order to enable the Gaza Strip population to move freely, particularly patients whose medical treatment is not available in the Gaza Strip;
- Open the crossings designated for the free movement of goods to supply the Gaza Strip’s healthcare facilities with their basic needs of medicines, medical equipment and devices;
- Comply with the rules and basic principles adopted by the UN; most significantly, the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health;
- PCHR demands the immediate and timely intervention of the PA to ensure that the drugs and medical disposables unavailable at the Gaza Strip hospitals are supplied; and to guarantee the right to health for every Palestinian including the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.