The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) calls upon the ministries of health in Ramallah and Gaza to take immediate steps, including the cancellation of all decisions that have led to halting the transfer of Gazan patients to hospitals outside the Gaza Strip, to ensure access of those patients to medical treatment. PCHR holds Israeli occupation authorities on the first hand, and the ministries of health in Ramallah and Gaza responsible for such deterioration, as the two governments in Ramallah and Gaza have taken a series of measures which have led to halting the transfer of Gazan patients to Israeli hospitals since last January, and to hospitals in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, since last March.
On Monday morning, 7 April 2009, PCHR received a response form the coordination and liaison department of Israeli occupation authorities at Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing, to applications for permits for 17 patients from the Gaza Strip to travel to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. The department requested PCHR to refer to the heath official in the Palestinian liaison department to apply for such permits. Some of these patients are currently receiving medical treatment at intensive care units in hospitals in the Gaza Strip as their health conditions have deteriorated.
The Ministry of Health in the Ramallah government has suspended providing financial coverage for medical treatment of Gazan patients at Israeli hospitals since 18 January 2009. On the other hand, the Ministry of Health in Gaza has taken over the department of external medical treatment in the Gaza Strip since 22 March 2009. Accordingly, all transfers of patients to hospitals outside the Gaza Strip have been halted, as coordination with Israeli occupation forces to ensure passage through Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing has been stopped and the Rafah International Crossing Point has continued to be closed. As a result, the lives of hundreds of patients are endangered due to the lack of advanced medical treatment at hospitals in the Gaza Strip.
Since the emergence of this crisis, PCHR has made persistent efforts to ensure respect and protection for the right of every Palestinian to the most possible appropriate physical and mental health treatment. In this context, over the past two weeks, PCHR has held a series of meetings and made communications with all concerned parties in an attempt to mediate for having a solution that could allow Gazan patients to receive medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip. PCHR’s Legal Aid Unit has provided assistance to these patients, including coordination for their travel, making appointments for them at Israeli hospitals and ensuring financial coverage for some of them, in order to facilitate their immediate access to medical treatment at hospitals outside the Gaza Strip. Before receiving this latest response from Israeli occupation authorities, the unit, to a far extent, had assumed the responsibilities of the external treatment department. Developments in this regard can be summed as follows:
- Since 22 March 2009, PCHR has submitted 45 applications for permits for patients to have access to medical treatment at hospitals in the West Bank, including Jerusalem.
- PCHR has made persistent efforts to ensure financial coverage and appointments for Gaza patients. PCHR has been able to provide assistance to at least 30 other patients at hospitals in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. Such assistance has included financial coverage for a number of patients.
- PCHR, through its lawyers and/or Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, has been able to obtain permits for 11 patients from the Gaza Strip. PCHR has followed up their travel and contributed to financial coverage for some of them, including their transportation in ambulances from the Israeli side of the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing to the hospitals to which they were transferred.
- Today, PCHR has received a response from the coordination and liaison department of Israeli occupation authorities at Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing to applications for permits for 17 patients from the Gaza Strip to travel to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. The department requested PCHR to refer to the heath official in the Palestinian liaison department to apply for such permits.
- PCHR has been waiting for responses for applications for permits for another 17 patients to have access to medical treatment at hospitals in the West Bank, including Jerusalem.
- PCHR is deeply concerned over the deterioration of health conditions of hundreds of patients in the Gaza Strip, especially as reaching an agreement between the two governments in Ramallah and Gaza concerning the transfer of Gaza patients to hospitals outside the Gaza Strip seems out of reach in the near future. It is worth noting that an average of 900 Gaza patients used to be transferred to hospitals in the West Bank, Israel, Egypt or Jordan. PCHR is concerned that the death toll among such patients may increase, and is currently verifying information that a number of such patients have died as their health conditions deteriorated.
In light of the developments related the crisis of transferring Gaza patients to hospitals outside the Gaza Strip, PCHR holds the two governments in Ramallah and Gaza fully responsible for the repercussions of their measures on the lives of Gaza patients. PCHR calls upon the two sides to meet their legal and moral obligations to save the lives of such patients, including children, women, elderly and persons who were wounded during the latest Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip.
PCHR believes that there are some failures in the work of the department of external medical treatment that need to be overcome through the following:
1) A credible professional committee, regardless of the political affiliation of its members, to ensure impartiality and fairness in serving patients who are in need for medical treatment abroad.
2) Canceling decisions to determine accredited and non-accredited references based on political affiliation, which have contributed to practicing extortion by some doctors against patients, and assign official offices for serving patients rather than doctors in person.
3) Patients or any persons representing them must be respected and not subjected to humiliation and extortion, and it must be recognized that there is no advanced medical treatment at hospitals in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, that can be an alternate to advanced medical treatment at Israeli hospitals.
4) Devoting an agreed-upon place where staff members of the department of external medical treatment gather to facilitate procedures of transferring patients to hospitals outside the Gaza Strip.
In light of the above:
1) PCHR calls for agreed mechanisms to ensure the continuous operation of the department of external medical treatment to be able serve patients who are in need for medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip.
2) PCHR calls upon the Ramallah Ministry of Health to immediately cancel its decision to stop the financial coverage for the hundreds Palestinian patients who need to complete life-saving treatment in Israeli hospitals. Amongst these patients are 57 children who need to complete their long-term treatment in Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. Stopping medical referrals in the context of the ongoing siege of Gaza and the outcome of the latest Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip represents a death sentence against these patients.
3) PCHR calls upon the Ministry of Health in Gaza Government to cancel its decision to take over the Department of External Medical Treatment. The Ministry is required to let the director and staff of the department return to their work immediately, in order to serve the hundreds of patients in need for medical treatment abroad.
4) PCHR calls upon the Israeli occupation authorities to fulfill their obligations, as an Occupying Power, with respect to the care and protection of the Palestinian population in the occupied Palestinian territory as codified in, inter alia, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and the two Additional Protocols of 1977.
5) PCHR believes that assaults by Israeli Occupation Forces against hospitals in the Gaza Strip during the latest Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip obligates Israeli to provide appropriate medical treatment on the right time and place for Gaza patients, as transferring patients to Israeli hospitals is not a means to improve Israel’s image rather it is an obligation under international law since it is the Occupying Power that has destroyed the medical infrastructure and has stopped the flow of necessary medical supplies into the Gaza Strip under security pretexts.
6) PCHR believes that claims high expenditures and Israel’s exploitation of transferring patients to its hospitals can be overcome through monitoring and following up by officials who should hold meetings with directors of Israeli hospitals to ensure appropriate medical treatment for patients in the lowest costs rather than stopping the transfer of patients to Israeli hospitals and freeing Israel as an Occupying Power from its legal obligations.