The High Court ruled Sunday that Israel must allow five women from Gaza who are purportedly close relatives of members of the Hamas terrorist group to travel to East Jerusalem for life-saving medical treatment.
The majority of the women were said to be suffering from cancer.
Israel has banned the relatives of Hamas members from entering Israel for medical treatment as part of an attempt to pressure the terrorist organization into returning the bodies of two Israeli soldiers it has held since the 2014 Gaza conflict, as well as two Israeli citizens who entered the Strip after that and are believed to be held by the group.
The state apparently originally suggested the women be treated abroad, but prosecutors argued this would be prohibitively expensive. The medical care the women require is not available in the West Bank, leaving two East Jerusalem hospitals as a possible alternatives.
The petition was originally submitted by seven women, but it was later confirmed that two of them were not related to terrorists.
Justice Uzi Fogelman noted in his verdict that although it was not unreasonable for the government to want to do whatever possible to ensure the return of the prisoners, “this purpose cannot justify an arrangement that denies the possibility of a relative of a Hamas member from receiving life-saving medical treatment in Israel.”
He added that the women were not a security risk.
Rights groups issued a joint statement hailing the court’s decision but claiming that the ruling “does not deal with Israel’s overall restrictive access policy, which continues to put thousands of patients at risk.”
“The court rightly dismissed the Israeli defense minister and cabinet’s outrageous claim that patients in critical condition may be used as bargaining chips,” said the statement from Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.
However, the organizations charged, the original decision by the government “marked a new and shameful low in Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza residents.”
The court’s decision was slammed by right-wing Jewish Home lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, who tweeted that the ruling demonstrated a “lack of responsibility shown by judges for the state’s security.”
Smotrich described the decision as “activism on steroids with no legal basis,” calling it a “terrible and dangerous deal to liberate terrorists.”
Thirty-one oncologists signed a letter in June addressed to the Defense Ministry and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories highlighting the plight of patients due to the increasing difficulty in traveling for treatment following a tightening of entry permit policies.
“Undoubtedly, the likelihood of cure and the ability to relieve the suffering of cancer patients are higher the sooner diagnosis and treatment are provided,” the letter said. “There is no justification for delaying the patients’ requests for months on end.”
Physicians for Human Rights said in June that over the previous year there have been delays in the treatment of 45 Gaza patients, some for six months or more.
Hamas, which openly calls for the destruction of Israel, seized control of Gaza in 2007, after which Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on goods entering the territory, and tightly controls entrance for Gazans into Israel. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas and other terror groups from bringing in weapons and military equipment.
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