December 28, 2016. Dozens of women cancer patients held a protest in front of the Gaza-based offices of the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee last Thursday. The women were protesting Israel’s policy of denying permits to exit Gaza to continue life-saving treatment due to security blocks.
The protest was organized by the Program for Aid and Hope to Cancer Patients, and participants carried signs demanding permits to exit for treatment in the West Bank or Israel. The protest was held in response to a sharp drop in the rate of approved applications to exit Gaza for medical treatment, which sank to 44% in October, compared to 77.5% in 2015, as we reported in our recently published factsheet on security blocks. In September, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel also published a report on the obstacles facing Palestinian patients who require treatment outside the territory.
Siham al-Tatari, a cancer patient, told Gisha’s field researcher that she had had two treatments at al-Makased hospital in East Jerusalem, and was set to receive further treatments once every three weeks. When she applied for a permit for the third time, she was shocked to discover she was blocked on “security grounds”. No explanation was provided to her about the reasons for the security block.
During the protest, Iman Shanan, the director of the Aid and Hope organization, herself a cancer survivor, demanded that the Palestinian authorities, and particularly the Civil Affairs Committee, advocate for the blocked women, stating that she held the Palestinian health minister responsible as well, as it’s his duty to facilitate access to necessary medicine and treatment. She also criticized the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, which, she said, did not sufficiently convey criticism of the policy to the Israeli authorities. She demanded that the minister for civil affairs, Hussein a-Sheikh, personally intervene to find a solution.
As we demonstrate in the factsheet, security blocks have been applied across the board to thousands of individuals in what appears to be an arbitrary and sweeping manner and without any reasonable connection to security. The criteria for travel are already extremely narrow. Medical patients who need treatment that is not available in the Gaza Strip, as well as businesspeople, traders and various humanitarian cases are being confronted with a policy that violates basic rights and threatens the quality of life and the family lives of thousands, as well as the economy as a whole. According to the analysis of Israel’s own security establishment, restrictions on movement also undermine the stability of the entire region.