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Israel cancels policy preventing Gaza patients' access to treatment

Aug. 29, 2018 2:01 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 31, 2018 4:09 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Israeli Supreme Court allowed the travel of five ill Palestinian women from the Gaza Strip via Israel for medical treatment that is unavailable in the besieged strip.

The court's rule, on Sunday, came after it accepted a petition submitted by the humanitarian organizations of Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Al Mezan, Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights Israel a month ago on behalf of seven critically ill women from the Gaza Strip who are in need of an urgent medical treatment at Palestinians hospitals in East Jerusalem.

A statement by Gisha said that the court "also ruled that the Israeli Security Cabinet's 2017 decision to deny Gaza patients access to medical treatment as a means of leverage over Hamas was ineffective and illegal."

The statement pointed out that the judgment included that "the value of life at its most elementary and cardinal sense is at stake. Denying available medical treatment from a person [who is critically ill and without access to treatment], or significantly and sweepingly limiting access to it without individual examination, in circumstances where there is no feasible option of obtaining treatment abroad, means putting the person in real danger."

Israel had denied the women's applications for exit permits on the grounds that they were "first-degree relatives of Hamas members." Israel then argued before the High Court that the patients' refusals reflected a decision made by Israel's Security Cabinet in January 2017 which orders "several operative measures to serve as leverage over Hamas with respect to returning captured and missing persons;" it also confirmed that the patients themselves did not pose any threat to Israel's security.

"After the petition was filed, Israel admitted that it had mistakenly identified two of the seven patients as 'relatives of Hamas members' and would allow them to reach medical treatment, which had already been greatly delayed. One of the two petitioners is in such a grave condition that she has opted to forgo the bureaucratic process of re-submitting her application for an exit permit from Israel."

Representatives of the women, Gisha attorneys Muna Haddad and Sigi Ben Ari, argued in court that the decision to deny the petitioners passage through Israel was illegal and effectively constituted a punitive death sentence for reasons entirely out of their control.

The center pointed out that most of the women have cancer.

Adv. Haddad clarified that Israel was not being asked to subsidize the medical treatment, but simply to comply with its responsibilities towards Gaza residents given Israel's ongoing control over the crossings.

"By virtue of its control, Israel is obligated to enable medical patients to enter Israel in order to access necessary medical treatment, an obligation which Israel only fulfills in the cases of severe and exceptional medical conditions."

Judges of Israel's Supreme Court ruled that Israel's decision to impose a "sweeping prohibition" on the exit of Gaza residents in need of urgent medical treatment to serve as leverage over Hamas is invalid, stands in violation of fundamental human rights, and moreover, that it does not promote Israel's objective of returning captured and missing persons, the center added.

According to information received by Gisha following a Freedom of Information request, since the beginning of this year, Israel has denied several hundred permit applications submitted by Palestinians of the Gaza Strip on the grounds that the applicants' "first-degree relative is a Hamas member."

Gisha added that "among those whose applications were denied on these grounds were patients in need of medical treatment unavailable in the Strip. When reviewing permit applications submitted by patients from Gaza, Israel's chief consideration, beyond immediate security considerations, should be the medical needs of the patient, rather than exploiting their hardship as leverage for mounting pressure on the de-facto authorities in Gaza. There can be no justification for using patients in need of medical treatment as pawns for political gain."
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