Israel to heart patient: “Go die in Gaza”

Palestinian medical patients near al-Shifa’ hospital in Gaza City call for the end of Israeli closure and sanctions so that they may receive medical treatment, 5 November 2007. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

The following is an update from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel:

One cancer patient, Na’el al-Kordi, died in Gaza while awaiting an answer from the state of Israel. Seven other patients in life-threatening condition are still in Gaza.

In its hearing on 12 November 2007, the Israeli high court avoided addressing Israeli policy regarding access of Gaza patients to care, or General Security Service (GSS) coercion of patients at the crossing, and delayed its decision regarding life-threatening cases by seven days.

PHR-Israel’s three demands as presented to the state in the High Court of Justice (HCJ) petition, 7 November 2007:

  • That the state permit immediate passage of eleven individual patients in life-threatening condition to care unavailable in Gaza.
  • That the state ensure access of all patients needing medical care unavailable in Gaza to medical centers outside Gaza, as a matter of policy.
  • That the GSS (Israeli secret services, Shabak) desist immediately from conditioning the exit of patients from Gaza on acting as informers on others.

Court hearing results, 12 November 2007:

  • The court only addressed demand Number 1, and refused to relate to issues of policy.
  • The state declared it would open Kerem Shalom Crossing into Egypt for the patients within days. This has not occurred to date.
  • The court gave PHR-Israel two days to define which patients were physically capable of the journey via Egypt and which not.
  • The court gave the state an additional five days to answer regarding the rest of the patients.

Results on the ground:

  • One cancer patient, Na’el al-Kordi, died on 17 November in Gaza
  • On 18 November, the state declared Kerem Shalom Crossing into Egypt will not be opened, contrary to its undertaking in court.
  • Five of the patients previously defined as “security threats” were authorized to exit. Of these, only three have exited Gaza at the time of writing this update. The other two are still there, due to lengthy bureaucratic procedures.
  • Five additional patients are still denied entry (see below for details on their condition).

State response, 19 November:

  • Kerem Shalom Crossing will not be opened
  • The five patients remaining will not receive permits due to “Security considerations”.

PHR-Israel will demand an urgent second High Court hearing.

The remaining five patients who are refused entry:

  • M.A.W, a 32-year-old woman, suffering from obstruction jaundice and ascending cholangitis with high fever. She gave birth a month ago and is rapidly weakening. Her most recent attack was on 17 November. She is referred to Nablus in the West Bank.
  • Y.A.H, a 37-year-old heart patient in need of open heart surgery. Referred to a hospital in Nablus, the West Bank, for surgery. He previously received a permit but was asked by the GSS to provide information on friends of his brother. When he failed to he was returned to Gaza and told “go die in Gaza.” Since then he has no permit. His condition is deteriorating and he is very weak, with breathing difficulties, and is in danger of sudden death at any moment.
  • R.M.T., a 40-year-old man, has prostate cancer with secondaries. He needs urgent diagnostics and care due to development of secondary tumors. His condition is deteriorating and he is very weak. Currently at Shifaa’ hospital in Gaza. Referred to Jordan for care.
  • N.S., a 28-year-old man, has a head of pancreas tumor. There is no change in his condition, and he is referred to Jordan for diagnostics and treatment. He is at home receiving painkillers since the hospital can no longer help him.
  • Y.M.S., a 20-year-old man, had a giant brain tumor and needed emergency surgery, for which he was referred to East Jerusalem. Since he receive no permit, he was operated on in Gaza, at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, and the tumor was removed. He now has motoric difficulties as a result, and his condition is still unclear.

The death of Na’el al-Kordi

Na’el al-Kordi, aged 21, was diagnosed with cancer (seminoma) in February 2006. He was operated at Shifaa’ hospital, Gaza, in March 2006, and underwent radiotherapy in Egypt in April 2006, followed by continuation of chemotherapy in Gaza. In January 2007 his condition worsened and in March he was diagnosed with secondary tumors. He was referred to a medical center in Egypt for care but encountered difficulties in reaching regular sessions due to repeated closures of Rafah Crossing into Egypt. His tumor shrank by 50 percent, and there was a chance of saving his life if granted follow up and appropriate care. Following the final closure of the crossing into Egypt on 9 June 2007, Na’el attempted to exit Gaza into Ichilov hospital in Israel, via Erez Crossing, but was refused by the Israeli authorities “on security grounds.” Appeals on his behalf by PHR-Israel failed to reverse this decision. In October he was diagnosed as suffering from secondary tumors in the liver and obstruction jaundice; his condition deteriorated rapidly. Although three Israeli doctors submitted written statements according to which his condition was very urgent and further delay of care would endanger his life, in the hearing on 12 November the Court failed to demand that the state grant him passage. On 17 November he died in his home in Gaza. Next day, the State Attorney informed PHR-Israel’s attorney that he had been granted a permit.

PHR-Israel believes that the GSS defines security in a narrow-sighted and manipulative manner, in order to justify the Israeli government’s stated policy of collective measures against the civilian population of Gaza. PHR-Israel is disappointed by the decision of the high court to avoid addressing these policy issues.

PHR-Israel reminds the government of Israel and the international community that deliberate withholding of medical care for reasons external to medical considerations can in extreme cases constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as defined in the UN Convention Against Torture. Since Israel controls the sole exit point from Gaza to the outside world, it bears sole responsibility for access of patients to care, irrespective of the legal status of Gaza as occupied territory.

PHR-Israel emphatically condemns the policies of the Israeli government regarding Gaza, as well as the failure of international governments to oppose the policy of isolation implemented against the 1.4 million protected civilians of Gaza.

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