PA stops referring Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals

Spokesman accuses Israel of overcharging and taking funds for medical bills without its permission; Israeli Finance Ministry defends deductions

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian cardiovascular surgeon Saleem Haj-Yahia (left), performs open-heart surgery at al-Najah University Hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus, January 28, 2016. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian cardiovascular surgeon Saleem Haj-Yahia (left), performs open-heart surgery at al-Najah University Hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus, January 28, 2016. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry has stopped referring Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Israeli hospitals, a Palestinian official confirmed on Monday.

Government-affiliated and independent Palestinian news outlets first reported late last week that the PA ceased referring Palestinians to Israeli hospitals.

“We will no longer refer patients to Israeli hospitals because Israel has been overcharging us for medical services and taking funds for medical bills without our permission,” PA Health Ministry spokesman Osama al-Najjar told The Times of Israel.

The PA has long paid for most medical bills of Palestinians, whom it refers to Israeli hospitals to receive treatment that Palestinian hospitals do not have the resources to provide. According to Najjar, in the past year, the PA sent some 50,000 Palestinians to Israeli hospitals.

Najjar said the Israeli Finance Ministry, which deducts funds for medical bills from taxes that the Jewish state collects every month on behalf of the PA, has declined to discuss possible solutions with Ramallah.

“We told Israeli officials that we want to find a solution for this issue, but they refused,” he said, stating that the PA has paid some $100 million in the past year to Israel for healthcare bills. “So we decided to make this decision. We cannot allow Israel to take our money against our will.”

A general view of the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem, November 26, 2006. (Flash90/File)

Asked to respond to Najjar’s contentions, the Finance Ministry said: “In accordance with the Paris Protocol and Israeli law, the Finance Ministry deducts, from [tax] funds that are collected for the Palestinian Authority, payments that it or parties under its control owe. Charges, including those for Palestinians referred by the PA for treatment in hospitals in Israel, are carried out in a fully transparent manner and in accordance with clear procedures.”

The Paris Protocol is an annex of the Oslo Accords, agreements that Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed in the 1990s that define the economic relations of the Jewish state and the PA.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the branch of the Defense Ministry responsible for liasing with the Palestinians, declined to comment.

Najjar added that while Ramallah stopped referrals to Israeli hospitals, it has continued to make them to hospitals in East Jerusalem.

There are six Palestinian-operated hospitals located in East Jerusalem.

Najjar also said that the PA will refer all ill persons requiring special operations or treatment that Palestinian or East Jerusalem hospitals cannot provide to medical institutions in Jordan, Egypt or other countries.

“We have alternatives to Israeli hospitals, and we will now take advantage of them,” he said.

Mahmoud Daher, the head of the World Health Organization’s sub-office in Gaza, said it was still not clear whether the PA’s decision to halt referrals to Israeli hospitals would have negative repercussions for sick Palestinians.

“We still do not know what the consequences of this decision are,” Daher said in a phone call. “It depends on whether the Health Ministry successfully sends patients in need of special treatment to suitable alternatives in Jordan and Egypt. Time will tell.”

According to Najjar, the PA had already made a deal with a Jordanian hospital on Sunday to refer a substantial number of sick Palestinians there.

An official at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said that she thought Israel should have allowed the PA to pay what it can afford for medical services in its hospitals.

“Since Israel has a decisive influence on the daily life, economy, and health of the Palestinians, and due to the ongoing occupation, it should have enabled the Palestinian Authority, at the very least, to purchase health services at the prices it is able to withstand,” Mor Efrat, the director of the Occupied Territories Department at Physicians for Human Rights Israel, said in text message.

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