While the devastating consequences of Israel’s 11-day military offensive against the Gaza Strip are becoming increasingly manifest, Palestinian patients with urgent medical needs residing in Gaza face yet another threat to their lives and health as Israeli authorities continue to deny all but a handful of patients entry to hospitals in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Israel in heightened closure measures.
Under the current policy, which permits only patients requiring lifesaving care—a definition that excludes patients with cancer and other chronic illnesses if their lives are not in immediate danger—hundreds of medical patients in Gaza continue to miss urgent hospital appointments. According to available information, between 24-31 May 2021, only 17 patients were allowed to leave Gaza for their hospital treatments, compared to 230 in April. Israel is also maintaining this policy despite at least 1,212 people in Gaza having been injured in the recent bombardment, and hospitals and healthcare centers having also been targets of Israeli military strikes.
The deteriorating condition of Gaza’s healthcare system—perpetually on the brink of collapse due to Israel’s comprehensive closure policies and repeated military attacks even prior to the recent escalation—forces cancer and critically-ill patients out of the Strip to seek specialized surgeries, diagnostic imaging, cardiology, or other medical treatments otherwise unavailable in Gaza.
Al Mezan closely monitors the situation of stranded Palestinian patients as part of its efforts aimed at facilitating their access to healthcare outside of the Gaza Strip. According to Al Mezan’s documentation, between 11-23 May 2021, Israeli authorities completely blocked the passage of Palestinian patients through Erez crossing, thereby halting their needed medical treatments.
It is worth recalling that Israel’s closure policies—including its use of crossings as a means of entrapment, arbitrary arrest and attempted coercion, as documented by Al Mezan—has potentially fatal consequences for those in urgent need of medical exit-permits and constitutes an unlawful form of collective punishment under international law and in the most serious cases violates the right to life.
Al Mezan reiterates its strongest condemnation of Israel’s tightened closure measures that target Gaza’s patients, which not only exacerbate Gaza’s chronic humanitarian crisis, but also constitute gross violations of international law amounting to clear and apparent international crimes. The international community must end Israel’s unlawful closure, first by taking swift action to ensure the resumption of crossing operations in line with international standards.
The Israeli military’s permit regime is an arbitrary, discriminatory policy that imposes unlawful preconditions on urgent and lifesaving treatment for thousands of Palestinians. To this end, it is critical that the international community put pressure on Israel to comply with its legal obligations as an occupying power vis-à-vis the occupied Palestinian people.