Patients dying at closed Erez checkpoint

Barely two weeks since extensive media attention successfully compelled Israel to allow access to lifesaving care for patients through Erez Crossing, Israeli policies at the crossing lead to a repetition of a similar crisis:

  • Sixteen patients in life-endangering condition stranded in Gaza without proper care due to “security prohibitions”
  • Permit-bearing cancer patient detained a full day at Erez Crossing and ordered to return
  • Two permit-bearing patients die within one week at Erez Crossing
  • Erez Crossing closed again since 28 October 2007

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) referred urgent letters yesterday and today to Israeli policy-makers reiterating its demand that Erez Crossing be immediately opened to patients needing care unavailable in Gaza.

PHR-Israel requested that the Israeli army Attorney General and the Legal Counsel to the Israeli Government immediately open an investigation into individual cases in which patients in need of lifesaving care were denied passage, endangering their lives and in at least two cases leading to death.

PHR-Israel also demanded that an external independent committee be appointed to examine both the individual violations recorded and the policy of authorities at Erez Crossing, including that of the Israeli secret service, GSS (Shabak).

1. Sixteen patients in life-endangering condition stranded in Gaza without proper care due to “security prohibitions”: Sixteen patients in urgent life-endangering conditions have been refused entry for “security” reasons over the past few days. These include: six cases of heart disease, five cancer cases, one case hemophilia with complications in pregnancy, one case secondary hemophilia with suspicion of cancer, one case obstruction hepatitis, one case acute kidney disease and one case ulcerative colitis with rapid weight loss.

2. Permit-bearing patient detained a full day at Erez Crossing and ordered to return: One of the stranded patients, M. A-J., a cancer patient suffering from osteosarcoma, was in our previous appeal after his request to access care had been refused twice. Following extensive pressure and media coverage, he received a permit to exit Gaza. However, each of the three relatives he proposed as escorts were refused permits. As a result, PHR-Israel informed the authorities at the Crossing that he would exit Erez alone.

On 28 October, M arrived at the Crossing at 6:30am. He was detained there all day. At 5:30pm, after 11 hours, the commanding officer at the Crossing ordered him to return to Gaza, because of a “new regulation” according to which patients are not allowed to enter Israel on their own, but must be with a relative.

The truth of this claim is doubtful, since other patients crossed Erez that day alone (e.g., Muhamad Taha, whose case is reported below). Moreover, reporting a new regulation at the last minute after such extensive delays begs the question whether it wasn’t a pretext for refusal of his passage despite his permit.

3. Two permit-bearing patients die within one week at Erez Crossing: On 21 October Nimr Shuhaiber, 77 years old, was admitted to Shifaa’ hospital in Gaza after a suffering a heart attack. On 22 October he received a permit to exit Gaza via the Erez Crossing. However, when the ambulance carrying him neared the checkpoint, Israeli soldiers fired on it and they were obliged to return to Gaza. The next day, 23 October, at 9:30am, Nimr tried again to reach the Crossing, following renewed coordination. The ambulance was delayed for three hours before reaching the Israeli side of the crossing. Because of the delay, the ambulance had to go back to the hospital in Gaza for extra oxygen, while Nimr waited at the crossing. The ambulance was then delayed for a further two hours, during which time Nimr was left on the ground in the sun. Access was then denied and the soldiers ordered Nimr back to the hospital in Gaza. He died shortly after.

Mahmoud Taha, 23 years old, was diagnosed with cancer of the intestines two months ago. He was treated at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis and then transferred to the European Hospital in Gaza. He was then referred to Tel Hashomer hospital in Israel. Mahmoud and his father received exit permits and arrived at the Crossing on 18 October by ambulance. At the crossing, Mahmoud’s father, 56, was taken in for interrogation. After Mahmoud had waited outside for more than two hours he was told to return to Gaza. His father was arrested. His whereabouts are unknown.

On 24 October, after Mahmoud received a new permit “pending interrogation,” PHR-Israel intervened, asking that his passage to medical care be immediately ensured, and that the arrest be investigated.

On 28 October Mahmoud finally reached the crossing. He was detained there for eight hours before being allowed to cross. However, the emergency room at Tel Hashomer hospital never received him: he died on the way.

4. Erez Crossing closed again since 28 October 2007: This week the Palestinian Coordinator of permits for the Palestinian Authority was informed by the Israeli authorities that Erez Crossing would be closed between 28 October and 6 November at least, and he was ordered to postpone all referrals to after that date. All but the most urgent cases are to be denied.

PHR-Israel calls once again upon its supporters in Israel and overseas to do all within their power to join its call for medical ethics, against the isolation of the Gaza Strip, and against the violation of the right to health under occupation.

PHR-Israel calls upon supporters to publicize the situation of patients in Gaza, to urge Israeli and international policy-makers to ensure medical care for the sixteen patients mentioned above, and for all other patients needing care unavailable in Gaza, and to urge the Israel Medical Association to publicly voice a clear position against these violations and for medical ethics and human rights.

Write to:

  • IMA Chair Dr. Yoram Blachar:
  • Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter:
  • Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai
  • Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni:
  • Health Minister Yaacov Ben Yizri:

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