On Tuesday, 8 August 2017, 47-year-old resident of Gaza, Etimad Rabee, died while waiting for a permit to access the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem, where she was to receive treatment for colon cancer. Mrs. Rabee’s death comes in the context of Israel’s systematic and increasing denial and delay in granting permits for patients seeking urgent medical care outside of the Gaza Strip.
Al Mezan’s legal unit had intervened in the permit request process to support Rabee’s application for the necessary medical transfer. Mrs. Rabee had submitted an initial permit on 2 April 2017. On 17 May 2017, her request was approved with the condition that she would select a different person to accompany her to the hospital. She submitted further requests on April 2, May 17 and June 29, to the three of which Israeli approval was granted with the same condition. Rabee never received a response to her requests for travel on July 4 and 24, and the approval came only on 8 August 2017, but cited the same conditions—a change of the person who would accompany her. While awaiting the travel companion approval from the Israeli authorities, Mrs. Rabee’s health deteriorated, and she was referred to the Gaza European hospital. At that point, her health had deteriorated to the extent that transport by ambulance was not feasible. Mrs. Rabee died at 4 pm on 8 August 2017, shortly after receiving approval of her permit request.
As in numerous previous cases, the Israeli authorities approved the permit for the patient, however, citing vague security reasons, did not issue the companion permit. Patients and/or companions whose permit requests are rejected are sometimes issued permits after intervention by Al Mezan and other Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations.
The systematic restrictions on the movement of Gaza’s patients are part of Israel’s closure policy, which places a blanket prohibition on movement for all residents, with a few exceptions. The unlawful closure policy harms various vulnerable groups, with patients particularly affected as they are denied access to adequate medical care for health conditions that Gaza’s crippled healthcare system cannot address.
Al Mezan calls on the Israeli authorities to immediately and unconditionally stop denying Palestinians access to healthcare that is necessary to save their life and/or improve the quality of life. The closure policy constitutes a serious violation of patients’ rights and reflects the occupying power’s unwillingness to fulfill its obligations towards protected persons under its effective control.
Al Mezan also condemns Israel’s restrictions on access to healthcare for Gaza’s patients by hampering the flow of medical equipment and goods. The closure policy, which restricts imports of materials that are essential for public health, including water and sanitation, must stop so that the Palestinian authorities and international community can improve health conditions in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Al Mezan calls for a thorough investigation into Mrs. Rabee’s death. The international community is called upon to intervene and uphold Palestinians’ right to health, as guaranteed in international law. The unlawful collective punishment measure that has been forced on Gaza’s population for over ten years, and the simultaneous denial of recourse to victims of human rights violations, represents a form of persecution, which must be brought to an immediate end and duly punished.