Fayza Shamia, 50, waited for around two years for permission to cross Erez and access medical treatment for breast cancer at the Al Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem. She died on Monday, only a few hours after receiving a Gaza exit-permit from Israeli authorities. Shamia is a victim of the 11-year illegal closure of Gaza, a central policy of which is movement restrictions on Gaza’s residents, with limited exceptions. The health sector has been crippled by three massive military bombardments in recent years and over a decade of stifling closure. The continued restrictions lead to delayed or denied treatment for the individuals prompted within this context to seek care in the occupied West Bank, Israel, or abroad.
Al Mezan’s documentation shows that at 5pm on Monday, 16 April 2018, Shamia, a resident of Al Nusairat refugee camp in the Middle Gaza district, died at Al Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem. Israeli authorities had been denying her request for an exit-permit to receive urgent medical treatment from August 2016. Her health declined steadily throughout the twenty months that she waited for a permit.
According to Al Mezan’s documentation, Shamia was diagnosed with breast cancer and scheduled to receive treatment at Al Makassed Hospital on 7 August 2016. She submitted a request through the Ministry of Civil Affairs to Israeli authorities in order to receive a permit in time for her appointment; however, her request was rejected. Between August 2016 and April 2018, she submitted seven more requests for an Erez crossing permit—all were denied by the Israeli authorities. Only on 16 April 2018, a few hours before her death, was she allowed to exit Gaza through Erez crossing.
Al Mezan’s documentation shows that, since the beginning of 2018 to publication, five patients have died after Israeli authorities delayed or denied permission to leave Gaza for medical treatment. Additionally, two patient-accompaniers were arrested and detained after arriving at Erez, even though they had been issued the exit permit, which entails a rigorous security check.
Al Mezan deeply regrets the compounded suffering of patients in Gaza and stresses that the excessive delay and denial practices are in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and international human rights law, particularly the right to health, and in grave cases, the right to life.
The approval rate of exit-permits for Gaza patients rests at 54%, the lowest rate since 2008. Documentation shows that the vast majority of the unsuccessful applications are excessively delayed, rather than rejected, by Israeli authorities, which enables the authorities to avoid criticism for high-rejection rates. In practice, the delays lead to a similar if not identical result, being that effective medical care—which, by nature means timely care—is unattainable.
In this context, Al Mezan calls for a prompt and effective investigation into the death of Shamia. In the absence of effective care and protection, Al Mezan also urges the international community to take necessary steps to protect the rights of Gaza’s patients, including by pushing Israel to comply with its international law obligations as an occupying power and by seeking an end to the illegal closure.