The World Health Organisation’s latest report — “Health Access for referral patients from the Gaza Strip” — provides details of the hardships experienced by Palestinians living in Gaza and in need of medical treatment outside the enclave. With Israel creating labyrinthine exit procedures due to its alleged “security” concerns, Palestinians with chronic and terminal illnesses are fast learning that there is unlikely to be any treatment or respite.
Statistically, the violations are obvious. The WHO report states that “two in every five Gaza patients [were] delayed or denied access to health care outside Gaza.” Such restrictions have a major impact on patients and their families. For the former, the delays can mean death or, at the very least, a further deterioration of their health. Relatives, on the other hand, are also subjected to inhumane, bureaucratic impediments which place additional stress upon everyone concerned.
More precisely, the WHO established that 42.6 per cent of patients in Gaza had their permits to travel for medical reasons denied or delayed. More than half of the individuals accompanying patients also experienced refusals or delays; applications were “still pending by the time of the patient’s hospital appointment date.”
Approval for travel may also be subject to security interrogation, leading to delays in treatment which have at times also proved fatal. According to the WHO report, for example, Yousef Zourub, a 22-year-old man suffering from medical complications, died “while awaiting an appointment for security interrogation.” Not a hospital appointment, remember, but an appointment to be interrogated as to why he has applied to travel to attend a hospital appointment elsewhere. Three permit applications were left pending, after which the Israeli security services told him to attend an interrogation session. This delay was fatal.
In any case, in the first six months of 2017, only 10 per cent of patients and carers who were asked to attend security interrogations were allowed to leave Gaza. The patients in these cases were awaiting referrals for, inter alia, oncology, cardiology and neurosurgery.
Given the urgency of such treatment, Israel’s withholding of permits, or delays in issuing the required documentation, is an example of how colonial violence has been perfected under the cloak of bureaucracy. Although it is a common failing in many countries, Israel’s reliance upon bureaucratic and other unnecessary delays is being used specifically as a weapon against Palestinian civilians without as much as a reprimand from the watching world. While Israel has been criticised for overt rights violations — albeit without any resultant benefits for the Palestinians — its reliance upon bureaucratic delaying tactics as a regular phenomenon actually shields the occupation authority from accountability, even though the delays are intentional and systematic.
Israel’s preference is to laud individual cases at the expense of the majority of Palestinians seeking treatment and facing inhumane travel obstacles. Shamefully, in an act of political spite which harms ordinary citizens, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has exacerbated the existing repression by holding Palestinians seeking medical treatment or in need of medical supplies hostage to their plight by also withholding treatment and permits.
Silence from international organisations is now the norm, as Gaza becomes a laboratory for social and military experimentation valid only within the context of human rights violations, the endorsement of such violations and a morbid penchant for observing the inevitable outcomes. In contrast to what the international community declares with regard to universal human rights, it has no qualms about aiding Israel in its imposition of death, destruction and deteriorating health upon the Palestinians in Gaza.
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