Between the Hammer and the Anvil: Women's Right to Health in the Gaza Strip

Originally published


A new report by Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) issued to mark International Women’s Day reveals how the closure of Gaza and the criteria for granting exit permits affect women patients, among other things due to delays and unresponsiveness by the Israeli authorities, women’s relatedness to family members residing outside the Gaza Strip, or their relatedness to members of Hamas.

The report is based on an analysis of hundreds of cases of patients who have contacted PHRI during 2017 and 2018 asking for help in leaving Gaza for medical treatment, with particular focus on the implications of the closure for women. The findings indicate there main trends:

Delays and unresponsiveness severely affect the chances of women cancer patients to recover: The 129 cancer patients who contacted us had been awaiting for response by Israeli authorities for many months, sometimes even a year. This delay in accessing healthcare severely affected their chances of recovery. Following our intervention, all obtained the exit permit, but precious time had been lost in the process, leaving us to wonder – why had their application been ignored or refused in the first place?

Denying an exit permit due to family relatedness to Hamas affects women almost twice as much as men: According to freedom-of-information data obtained from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (CGAT), out of 969 applications by patients in 2017-18 in which the reason for refusing the permit was family relatedness to Hamas members, 608 of the refused were women, and 361 were men.

Denying an exit permit due to a – usually male – relative residing in the West Bank without permit affects access to healthcare: In most cases of refusal handled by PHRI over the past two years, the relatives who settled in the West Bank rather than return to the Gaza Strip were men. Like many other countries, Israel also pressures relatives, in this case women, in order to achieve political objectives, including by blockading the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza, as in many other conflict zones worldwide, women are affected severely, in different ways, by violence and the lack of medical care. Even if the criteria do not specifically target women, once the policy of closure on Gaza carries such devastating gender repercussions – mainly for those vulnerable patients – it must be changed in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that addresses the effects of state policies on women and the need to include them in decision making.

These effects of Israel’s policy are disastrous for all the inhabitants of Gaza, women and men, sick and healthy, young and old. This report sheds light on some of the victims of this policy who are often hidden from view, whose voice is seldom heard. Their voices join the calls we have made in the past, and will continue to make – to remove the sanctions on Gaza and to allow its people to live with dignity.