With PA coordination halted, sick Gazans still have no mechanism to enter Israel

After 2.5 months, UN hasn’t set up alternate method for facilitating patients’ transfer for urgent treatment, report says; Jerusalem said to only approve half of emergency requests

Palestinians are seen crossing at the Erez crossing with Israel near Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on  August 27, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinians are seen crossing at the Erez crossing with Israel near Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on August 27, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Two and a half months after the Palestinian Authority stopped coordinating the exit of residents of the Gaza Strip to Israel or the West Bank on humanitarian grounds, there is still no functioning alternative mechanism to quickly facilitate treatment for urgent medical cases, a report said Thursday.

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced two weeks ago that it would streamline the process, but has yet to do so. Meanwhile, only half of the urgent cases referred directly to Israeli authorities are approved, the Haaretz daily reported.

The PA stopped the coordination in late May, cutting all ties with Israel in protest of its as-yet unfulfilled intention to annex parts of the West Bank.

In late May, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced the PA was “absolved” of all of agreements and understandings with Israel, as part of the Palestinians’ response to the planned annexation, which hasn’t gone ahead despite vows by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid objections voiced by members of US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Some 30,000 permits were issued in 2019 for Gazans to enter Israel for humanitarian reasons. Of the requests, 16,000 were for Gazans who needed to be hospitalized, while the remaining 14,000 were for those accompanying the sick. In April 2020, only 159 permits were issued, Haaretz reported in June.

The PA Civil Commission normally receives the requests, processes them and transfers them to Israel, but has ceased doing so since the end of Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, the Coordinator on Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement.

A Palestinian nurse checks cancer patient Jehad al-Qedra, 52, while he receives his treatment at a hospital in Khan Younis refugee camp, Gaza Strip, on June 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The Thursday report by Haaretz said that the Physicians for Human Rights organization has reported a 500 percent increase in the number of requests it has received to help patients exit Gaza for urgent medical treatment since the coordination was halted.

The group said Israel only reviews requests in urgent cases in which the patient’s life is in danger, such as cancer and heart diseases, and for small children. Even among those cases, only half of the requests are approved, the rights group said.

OCHA, the UN agency, told Haaretz that its alternative coordination mechanism faces delays due to unspecified “bureaucratic reasons,” mainly in talks with Palestinian officials.

Meanwhile, the report said, patients complained of being questioned at length at the Erez Crossing into Israel even after receiving approval, with some being sent home. It said authorities began conditioning entry into Israel on MRI or X-ray results and proof that the necessary treatment isn’t available in the Strip.

Patients whose entry was approved before the coronavirus pandemic began were allowed to remain in Israel, including a toddler who successfully received a kidney transplant from his mother with the financial help of an Arab Israeli NGO, Channel 12 reported Friday.

The report said Abdel-Karim, who is almost three years old, had gone through an eight-month bureaucratic ordeal, hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the PA halting its coordination, but eventually received the transplant in early July at Rambam hospital in Haifa and with the help of the “Think About Others Association.”

Passengers at the Erez border crossing that is used by Gazans coming for medical treatment in Israel. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Haaretz on Thursday highlighted a different story, of a 22-year-old Gazan man suffering from aplastic anemia who died before he could be transferred, allegedly due to Israeli foot-dragging.

The report said Jalal Sharafi fell ill in March and that a referral for a bone marrow transplant at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv was secured on May 4.

The report said an appointment was set for July 12, though it didn’t mention the PA halting its coordination or say how that affected the process. It then detailed how Israel initially rejected the request on security grounds on July 13, then approved him but rejected the request by Sharafi’s father to accompany him.

By the time Israel gave approval for another family member to accompany him, on July 19, Sharafi died.

“Every day that passes without the establishment of an alternative international mechanism costs lives,” said Physicians for Human Rights. “Ultimately, as the body that controls the crossings and decides regarding their arrival for treatment, Israel must care for the patients’ lives until there is a solution.”

COGAT, the Israeli military liaison to the Palestinians, said it “acts beyond the letter of the law, in coordination with relevant officials, in the shadow of the freezing of the coordination by the PA Civil Commission and the coronavirus outbreak, to enable the entry of Gaza residents for life-saving medical treatment even at this time.

“Each request is examined individually and in depth by professionals,” it added. “Reducing the traffic at Erez Crossing to only urgent medical and humanitarian cases is done to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the area as much as possible.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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