On March 25, 2008, Time magazine writer Tim McGirk headlined "Israelis Blocking Medical Care in Gaza," saying:
"Since Gaza is denied (most everything under siege), many complicated surgeries are no longer done there." Those permitted abroad for them, like Bassam al-Wahedi, endure a gauntlet through Israel's "security maze."
Entering Egypt through Erez Crossing, "(h)e fumbled along tunnels, steel doors that opened and slammed as he passed along, entered a strange cylinder that fired a whoosh of air at him before he finally reached a large hall with an Israeli soldier sitting inside a bulletproof glass booth."
He showed his permit for scheduled surgery that afternoon. "(T)hree plainclothed Israelis with pistols and walkie-talkies led him past cages with growling dogs to a room where he was strip searched and interrogated by a man who identified himself as a" Shin Bet captain.
He pressured al-Wahedi to spy for Israel, saying his permit would be cancelled if he refused. "He wanted me to go back to Gaza and collaborate for two weeks," al-Wahedi explained, "and if they liked what I did, I could come to Israel and have my eye operation with the best doctor in Tel Aviv."
Angry and frustrated, he refused. "Contacted by Time, Shin Bet denied approaching (him) to collaborate, (saying he was sent back) because of his involvement in 'activities dangerous to the state.' "
Physicians for Human Rights - Israel (PHR - I) believes everyone "has the right to health in its widest possible sense, as defined by the principles of human rights, social justice and medical ethics."
As a occupying power, international law obligates Israel to provide and/or do nothing to obstruct it. PHR-I explained at the time that Shin Bet denied dozens of other patients vital care for refusing to collaborate. One with severe heart trouble, in fact, was told to "go back and die in Gaza." It's common practice, but Israel denies it.
PHR-I petitioned Israel's High Court of Justice for redress to no avail, its director Miri Weingarten saying, "What we're seeing is that (it's) willing to intervene less and less in (alleged) security cases."
PHR-I's earlier report titled, "Obstacles Facing Gaza Patients in Need of Medical Care" explains what they endure, accessed through the following link:
Under siege, Gazans struggle daily to survive, especially when needing medical care that may or may not be available. For Israelis, it's simple. "Schedule an appointment. See a doctor. Get treated."
Gazans, however, face numerous obstacles, including forcing them "to opt out of treatment altogether" because hospitals or other medical facilities can't provide it.
PHR-I helps about 100 patients a month get vital care otherwise not accessible, but never easily given the impediments Israel imposes. In fact, its repressive occupation undermines the health and welfare of all Palestinians, especially isolated Gazans under siege.
Referral for Treatment Abroad
Gazan doctors unable to provide treatment refer patients abroad. The medical unit head and hospital director must then authorize it. Unavailable care is especially lacking in oncology, cardiology, orthopedics, and ophthalmology, as well as for any severe health problem for lack of proper equipment, drugs or trained staff.
Palestinian Bureaucracy Required by Israel
A Gaza medical committee must first approve referrals abroad, as explained above. It's first sent to the Ramallah Palestinian Ministry of Health for financial coverage approval. Patients must then submit proper papers to the Gaza Palestinian Ministry of Health to schedule an appointment in an Israeli or Palestinian hospital. On average, the process takes 7 - 10 days without hitches.
Submitting an Entry Permit Application
Comprised of an authorized referral, financial coverage approval, and scheduled exam date, patients must submit entry requests to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee - the Palestinian Health Coordinator appointed by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Coordinating between Palestine and Israel, everything pertaining to healthcare must go through him or her with exclusive authority to handle all applications for Gazans. "In his absence, patients encounter great difficulties, often missing appointments and access to timely medical treatment."
Israel Decides Who Exits and Who Doesn't Regardless of Need
Palestine's Health Coordinator submits patient entry permit applications to the District Coordination Office (DCO), a division of Israel's military. After reviewing them, DCO sends them to General Security Service (GSS) authorities for security clearance. Some get permission. Others don't, but the process takes time, too much, in fact, in emergency situations.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Gazans submitting permit applications are interrogated at Erez Crossing, as explained above. However, the process is so degrading, intimidating, and unacceptable that some don't show up, losing their right to vital care.
Pressure, Threats, and Extortion of Patients During Interrogations
After arriving as scheduled, hours can pass before interrogations begin. As explained above, Gazans are pressured to cooperate for treatment, though some, in fact, refuse and get it anyway. Many, however, must either collaborate and risk their lives at home, or refuse and be denied vital care.
When interrogations are scheduled after appointment dates, the process starts over, requiring weeks more waiting even when urgent treatment is needed.
Erez Crossing Security Examinations
Gazans approved for passage are assigned an exit date. Even those weak or extremely ill must walk about a kilometer on their own inside Erez, then pass through an additional security exam and more. They still must receive final approval. Even critically ill patients must wait hours to pass.
In 2009, 7,534 Gazans applied for permit permission to cross Erez. Applications for 5,211 (69%) were approved, the other 2,300 (31%) denied or delayed, causing patients to miss appointments. From January - March 2010, 3,089 applied for entry. Applications for 2,392 (77%) were approved, the other 697 (23%) denied or delayed.
However, for those approved, the process just began, followed by a lengthy, time-consuming gauntlet of hardships, denying care for many for not spying on for Israel as the price for vital treatment.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.