Israel has been cutting down on the number of medical treatment permits it issues to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, fearing that they are being abused to move illegally to the West Bank, state prosecutors reportedly told the High Court of Justice this week.
Prosecutors disclosed the efforts on Wednesday in a response to a High Court of Justice petition filed by Arab human rights groups, the Haaretz daily reported.
According to the report, the prosecutors said cutting the number of permits issued was part of active steps to “halt the growth” of Palestinians moving from Gaza to the West Bank without a permit from Israel. The response said that Israel regards them as “illegal aliens.”
Prosecutors said that since 2017, there has been a sharp uptick in the number of Gazans making the move.
As of mid-2018, 2,671 Gazans were living in the West Bank without an Israeli permit. Just over half of them, 1,397, were granted a permit to leave Gaza for medical reasons but never returned.
The number is a sharp increase from previous years; in 2016, the total number of Gazans who left the Strip for medical treatment and never returned was 262.
Israel says entire Gaza families are illegally moving to the West Bank chain-migration style. After one family member is granted an exit permit for medical purposes, other relatives then begin applying for permits to enter Israel to visit the sick person, and never return.
As a result, Israel has been cracking down on the number of medical permits it issues Gazans, citing fears the applicants, even those seeking medical care, will never return home.
According to Gaza-based Al Mezan, along with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, many applicants whose relatives were illegally residing in the West Bank were denied permits outright. In some cases, patients were told they would be given a permit to enter Israel only if their relatives returned to Gaza.
The organizations petitioned the High Court in a bid to outlaw conditioning medical treatment on concerns the patients won’t return or the migration status of their relatives.
The court rejected the petition on the grounds that no such criteria for entry permits officially exist, according to the state.
The admission from state prosecutors comes less than a month after a senior Israeli official said the government was actively promoting the emigration of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, and was working to find other countries who may be willing to absorb them.
The official said Israel was ready to absorb the cost of helping Gazans emigrate, and would even be willing to consider allowing them to use air fields inside Israel to facilitate their departure.
The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry slammed the official’s remarks as “extremely dangerous” and accused Israel of “targeting Palestinians and Gaza’s livelihoods, and squeezing them in order to motivate them to emigrate.”
Hamas-controlled Gaza suffers from severely inadequate supplies of water and electricity, ailing health services, widespread poverty and a high unemployment rate.
Fifty-three percent of Palestinians in Gaza live in poverty, according to a June 2018 United Nations report.
Since the Hamas terror group took over Gaza in 2007, Israel has upheld stringent restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.
Israeli officials argue that the restrictions aim to prevent terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, from importing weapons and other materials that could be used to attack Israelis.
Israel and Gaza terror groups have fought three wars in the past decade, most recently in 2014, and engage in frequent bouts of tit-for-tat fighting.