Israeli occupation forces (IOF) continue to violate rights of civilians in Gaza by denying freedom of movement to patients in need of access to hospitals outside of Gaza. The Israeli restrictions exacerbate the fragile public health conditions in Gaza, putting patients at risk from imminent death, and subjecting them and their companions to extortion and arrest. In a recent incident, a patient died after being denied access to a hospital outside Gaza. In a separate incident a patient companion has been arrested at the Erez crossing into Israel.
On 2 May 2017, European Gaza Hospital, announced the death of Walid Mohamed Mohamed Qa’oud, 59, resident of Khan Younis, after his health severely deteriorated following repeated but failed attempts to obtain a travel permit to receive life-saving treatment at the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem.
According to his son Mohamed, 33, his late father was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007, for which he underwent partial colectomy at the European Gaza Hospital in 2008, and thereafter regularly received chemotherapy for four years. In 2015, during a regular medical follow-up, cancerous cells were detected in his lungs, and at the time he was granted a permit to travel to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem where he underwent advanced scanning of the lungs on 10 November 2015. The medical imaging showed formation of cancerous cells in his right lung under the shoulder, and the doctors concluded that it can be treated.
On the same day, when he was on his way back to Gaza, at approximately 18:00, IOF detained him for about six hours at the Erez crossing. He was strip-searched and forced to stand in a stressful posture (facing the wall while standing on one leg). He was interrogated and asked for information about various people and the nature of his sons’ work. Finally, before being released, the interrogator explicitly told him that he would not be allowed to travel again to receive treatment unless he brought his sons to meet with the Israeli Intelligence agents. Following his return to Gaza, he booked a new appointment at the same hospital in Jerusalem, but was not granted a permit to travel. Furthermore, he applied several times and his applications would either be rejected or delayed under the pretext that his application was undergoing a security check.
Walid attempted to obtain a permit for more than a year while his health continued to deteriorate. On 21 December 2016, he was granted medical referral to Egypt to receive treatment. Once he returned to Gaza from Egypt, he reapplied once again for a travel permit through Erez. His numerous applications again received the reply “under security check”, the last of which came on 9 February 2017; additionally containing a request to attend an interview with the Israeli intelligence service on 21 March 2017. Walid could not attend the interview at Erez as his health was rapidly deteriorating – the cancer had metastasized to several parts of his body and he lost his memory, as well as the ability to move and speak. He passed away on Tuesday evening, 2 May 2017.
In a separate incident, Israeli forces arrested a 52-year-old woman on 3 May 2017. Nima Al Jourani, resident of Khan Younis, was traveling back to Gaza through Erez crossing after accompanying her nephew Yousif Al Gharabli to a hospital outside of Gaza for treament after he broke his back and pelvis in a work accident. He was referred to Al Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem on 13 April 2017. His aunt accompanied him after his mother was denied permit to come along.
According to Al Mezan’s monitoring and documentation, since the beginning of this year Israeli policies of restricting freedom of movement and access to healthcare have caused death of five patients in Gaza, including two children. IOF arrested three patients’ accompaniers during the same period. Further, in the first quarter of 2017, 47% of travel permit applications for patients were either rejected or stalled, marking a 20% drop in approval rate compared to the first quarter in 2016.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights stresses that denying patients access to healthcare constitutes a violation of International Humanitarian Law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, which obligates the occupying power to provide medical attention and hospital treatment for patients if their state of health so requires. The IOF are also breaching human rights standards set forth in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 12 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which guarantee the right to effective access to healthcare.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to ensure respect for International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, and to end Israel’s violations against patients seeking access to urgent medical treatment in hospitals outside Gaza.
Al Mezan deeply regrets the tragic death of Walid Qa’oud, and strongly condemns Israel’s grave violations against the civilian population as a whole, and patients in particular, in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
Al Mezan further calls on the international community to promptly intervene in order to protect civilian population in the oPt, to end the blockade which is exacerbating the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, and to hold the occupying power to account.