World Bank: Israeli restrictions on West Bank, Gaza hinder Palestinians’ healthcare

International lender decries ‘lengthy, bureaucratic regime of permits,’ saying many Palestinians die before they can obtain treatment

Palestinian ambulance workers and paramedics protest against the Israeli blockade, not allowing them to bring some medical equipment to Gaza hospitals, east of Gaza City, Jan. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Palestinian ambulance workers and paramedics protest against the Israeli blockade, not allowing them to bring some medical equipment to Gaza hospitals, east of Gaza City, Jan. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Israel’s restrictions and rising fiscal constraints in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are severely impacting the economic conditions of Palestinians and hindering their access to timely life-saving healthcare, the World Bank said Monday.

In a report titled “Racing Against Time,” the World Bank said that overall the Palestinian economy was performing below potential, with per capita income expected to stagnate.

Poverty in the West Bank and Gaza was on the rise, with one out of four Palestinians living below the poverty line, the Washington-based global lender said.

Israel’s restrictions on movement and trade in the West Bank, the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip and the divide between the two Palestinian territories were among several factors that had put the Palestinian economy at high risk, the report said.

“The fiscal constraints weigh heavily on the Palestinian health system and particularly on its ability to cope with the mounting burden of non-communicable diseases,” Stefan Emblad, the World Bank’s director for the West Bank and Gaza, said in a statement released with the report.

The restrictions, including “a lengthy, bureaucratic regime of permits,” often makes it hard to provide timely life-saving healthcare to Palestinians, he said.

Ilustrative — This picture taken on April 22, 2021 shows a general view of nurses and patients at the COVID-19 coronavirus intensive care unit at the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital in Gaza City. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

Access to outside medical referrals for treatment of cancer, heart disease, and maternal and child birth conditions are significantly affected due to physical and administrative constraints, the statement said.

“The situation is particularly critical in Gaza, which suffers from a more limited health system capacity and where patients struggle to get needed medical exit permit applications on a timely basis,” it said.

“Research figures show that the near-blockade of Gaza has had an impact on mortality, as some patients do not outlive the length of the permit process.”

Thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip cross annually into Israel for medical treatment unavailable in the impoverished territories.

Last year, Israel issued entry permits for more than 110,000 medical visits for West Bank residents, according to COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry body overseeing Palestinian civilian affairs.

More than 17,000 such permits were issued during the same period to Palestinians from Gaza, where 2.3 million people live.

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

The World Bank urged Israel and Palestinian authorities to better manage medical cases and ease the permit process in a bid to provide timely healthcare assistance to patients and their companions.

An Israeli blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza since the Islamist terror group Hamas seized power in 2007 has also obstructed medical supplies to the enclave.

Israel says its blockade of Gaza is necessary to prevent Hamas from freely arming itself for war and attacks.

The Shin Bet has said in the past that Hamas has taken advantage of vulnerable Palestinians with medical permits to advance its aims.

Overall, the Palestinian economy has been stagnating for the past five years, Emblad said, adding it was not expected to improve unless policies on the ground change.

“Given population growth trends, income per capita is thus expected to stagnate,” the World Bank said.

Israel routinely withholds tax revenues from the West Bank-based PA, saying this is in response to Ramallah’s monthly payments to the families of Palestinians in Israeli prisons or killed by Israeli forces, including those who committed or planned attacks against Israelis — stipends that Jerusalem argues offers a direct incentive to commit terror attacks.

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