Fifty-four Palestinians died last year waiting for Israeli permits to leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment.
One of them was Faten Ahmed, a 26-year-old with a rare form of cancer. She died in August while awaiting an Israeli permit to travel for chemotherapy and radiotherapy not available in Gaza.
She had previously missed eight hospital appointments after Israeli “security approval” was delayed or denied, according to the World Health Organization.
Ahmed was one of five women who died from cancer in that month alone waiting for Israeli permission that never came.
Overall, 46 of those who died last year waiting for permits were cancer patients.
Shocking number of deaths
This staggering toll highlights the lethal impact of Israel’s ever-tightening siege on the two million people who live in Gaza.
“We’re seeing Israel increasingly deny or delay access to potentially life-saving cancer and other treatment outside Gaza, with shockingly high numbers of Palestinian patients subsequently dying, while Gaza’s healthcare system – subjected to half a century of occupation and a decade of blockade – is decreasingly able to meet the needs of its population,” Aimee Shalan, CEO of Medical Aid for Palestinians, said on Tuesday.
Her charity, along with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, has issued an urgent call on Israel to “lift the unlawful sweeping restrictions on the freedom of movement of people from Gaza, most critically those with significant health problems.”
In 2017 Israeli occupation authorities approved just 54 percent of applications for permits to leave Gaza for medical appointments, the lowest rate since the World Health Organization began collecting data in 2008.
Israel has dramatically tightened the deadly squeeze; its approval rate for permits fell from 92 percent in 2012 to 82 percent in 2014 and then 62 percent in 2016, before hitting its lowest point last year.
The health and human rights groups note that the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have declared Israel’s land, sea and air blockade on Gaza, preventing the movement of its population, to be “collective punishment” – a war crime.
“Palestinians from Gaza missed at least 11,000 scheduled medical appointments in 2017 after Israeli authorities denied or failed to respond in time to applications for permits,” the groups state.
Egypt and Palestinian Authority complicit
The groups also note that Egypt and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority played a role in worsening the situation: “Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing mostly closed for the population in Gaza since 2013, which contributed to restricting access to health care.”
“As a state bordering a territory with a protracted humanitarian crisis, Egypt should facilitate humanitarian access for the population,” they state. “Nevertheless, ultimate responsibility remains with Israel, the occupying power.”
The Palestinian Authority also sharply reduced its financial approvals for medical treatment outside Gaza as part of its sanctions aimed at forcing Hamas to hand over control of the governance of Gaza.
These PA restrictions resulted in at least one death, according to the groups. But medical authorities in Gaza have said that more than a dozen people, including a 3-year-old girl with a heart condition, died waiting for payment approval from Ramallah.
All of this comes amid the protracted siege-induced crisis which has brought the collapse of key parts of the health system.
“Amid widespread poverty and unemployment, at least 10 percent of young children are stunted by chronic malnutrition, up to half of all medicines and medical items in Gaza are completely depleted or below one month’s supply, and chronic electricity shortages have caused officials to cut health and other essential services,” the human rights and medical groups state.
End the siege
Earlier this month, hospitals in Gaza began shutting down as emergency generators ran out of fuel, forcing the postponement of hundreds of operations.
On Wednesday, RT posted this report from Gaza about the plight of cancer patients. Correspondent Anya Parampil spoke to Zakia Tafish whose husband Jamil died after he was repeatedly blocked from traveling to Jerusalem for surgery.The channel also aired a report about the worsening situation in the territory’s hospitals.
Following UN warnings of looming catastrophe, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates last week pledged $11 million in short-term funding to stave off an even worse catastrophe for another few months.
However, as the human rights groups note, there is no long-term solution but to end the siege.
“The Israeli government’s restrictions on movement are directly connected to patient deaths and compounded suffering as ill patients seek permits,” Al Mezan director Issam Younis said.
“These practices form part of the closure and permit regime that prevents patients from a life of dignity, and violates the right to life.”
The UK-based Medical Aid for Palestinians is calling on the public to contact lawmakers in the British parliament and “ask them to urge the UK government to take action and save lives in Gaza.”