Permits to exit Gaza for medical treatment: Rhetoric versus reality

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In December 2018, we filed a petition together with Al Mezan Center in Gaza, demanding Israel revoke the “concern over illegal remainder in the West Bank” criterion.

In the petition we also demanded the state stop stipulating the applying patient’s relatives who are in Israel or the West Bank must return to the Gaza Strip as a condition for issuing the permit. After the state argued this was not a blanket criterion, the case ended with the court dismissing the petition.

The petition was filed after both PHRI and Al Mezan received many requests over the course of 2018 from Gaza residents in need of medical treatment whose applications had been denied by Israel because a relative was residing in Israel or the West Bank without a permit. In some cases, the refusal also cited concern the applying patient would not return to the Gaza Strip themselves. Some applicants were told they would receive a permit only if their relatives returned to the Gaza Strip.

During the hearing of the petition, the state confirmed that patients had been denied exit permits in an effort to prevent Gaza residents from taking up residence in the West Bank. Israel views this as a security threat, since passage from the West Bank into Israel is relatively easy, given the vague borders. What Israel forgets is that it is responsible for this situation. Israel’s policy of avoiding marking clear borders preserves this state of affairs – and Palestinian patients pay the price.

In order to evade having to change its policy, the state quibbled that the criterion was not applied indiscriminately: “Applications are not denied automatically or as part of a blanket policy motivated by concern over possible abuse of the permit by the applicant for the purpose of illegal stay. The consideration is made as part of the review of all relevant factors, both the concern over possible illegal stay and factors related to the purpose of the application and the humanitarian need”. The state also denied our claim that the return of relatives residing unlawfully in Israel or the West Bank is stipulated as a condition for permit issuance. The justices viewed this response as meeting all our requests.

Israel’s political decision to continue ruling the lives of OPT residents perpetuates a situation of divide and rule between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and between these two parts and East Jerusalem. Having created a permanent borderless situation, which serves only Israel, the state uses security excuses to justify collective punishment against Gaza residents – leaving the most vulnerable – those needing medical treatment outside Gaza – to pay the price.