Parents separated from children receiving medical care outside Gaza

A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) demonstrates how the restrictions Israel places on the movement of patients and families in Gaza harm patient care, including vital medical care for children.

Israel controls the movement of Palestinians between the three areas of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt): the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Any Palestinian who does not have an Israeli-issued Jerusalem ID must apply for a permit to access hospitals in East Jerusalem where many specialties – including neonatal intensive care, open heart surgery and radiotherapy – are located.

According to the WHO, in June 2,127 patients applied for permits to exit Gaza for medical treatment, 30% of whom were children. Almost a third of patients (32%), including 165 children, who applied to leave Gaza via the Erez Crossing were refused a permit by the Israeli authorities, or did not receiving a response in time to attend their appointments.

The report highlights that for those who were permitted to travel outside Gaza for medical treatment in June, almost half were unable to travel with a companion. In June denials for patient companion permits rose to the highest rate (17%) in a year, just 52% were granted and 31% received no response. This is particularly problematic for parents accompanying sick children and for companions of the elderly and those with disabilities.

This summer Naz Shah MP, Rushnara Ali MP and Yasmin Quershi MP visited Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem on a delegation with MAP and Caabu. There they met three children from Gaza undergoing cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, without parents there to care for them.

Sadly, the stories of the three children are not unique. The WHO’s report tells of a brother and sister, Yassin, 4, and Lamis, 10, who have chronic granulomatous disease, a disorder which causes the immune system to malfunction. Yassin and Lamis have often had to leave Gaza for vital treatment without either of their parents. Their father told the WHO: “When Yassin or Lamis get a permit to travel for a hospital appointment, we take them to Erez. It breaks my heart when the time comes for us to separate, especially with Yassin. He cries a lot, and so does my wife. I feel destroyed and helpless.”

The WHO’s report also exposes the barriers Palestinian ambulances face entering East Jerusalem. Of 1,733 patients permitted to access hospitals outside Gaza in June, 58 patients underwent a “back-to-back” transfer, whereby they were physically moved from a Palestinian-registered ambulance at Erez crossing to an Israeli-registered ambulance. This process causes delays and significant discomfort and medical risk for the patient as they are transferred, sometimes in critical condition. This was explained to MAP by two members of staff, Mohammed and Ibrahim, from the Palestine Red Crescent Society’s Emergency Medical Centre in Jerusalem:

Mohammed: "It is a very tough process. The patient enters the changing place at Erez terminal not by car or ambulance but with a medic from Gaza who walks for one and a half to two kilometres pushing the patient in a bed."

"It is forbidden to get out or take any mechanical medical tools to the other side. For example, if there is a patient with a mechanical ventilator it is forbidden to enter to the Israeli side with it or for us to send our mechanical ventilator to the Gazan side."

Ibrahim: "Imagine you have a patient and only one medic can enter with them, so the medic is pushing the bed and trying to operate a hand ventilator at the same time."

Mohammed: "Sometimes when we arrive to the Israeli side we see the Israeli security personnel telling the medic to go to the inspection area so he has to leave the patient on their own. We are not allowed to go over to the patient. A lot of patients are dead in the terminal and our staff have to carry out CPR."

"We receive neonates, babies who are just two or three hours old who have to be transferred from one incubator to another. They are transferred in cold or hot weather with contamination all around them. During this process they face a lot of diseases and dangers."

You can read more about obstacles to Palestinians’ access to healthcare here:

Health Under Occupation, Chapter 1: Access to Healthcare

You can read the WHO’s full report here.

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