MAP speaks to Al Jazeera about barriers to Gaza patient permits

With Gaza’s health sector severely damaged by a decade of blockade and repeated military offensives, it is crucial that patients are able to travel out to other areas of the occupied Palestinian territory or abroad to access care.

Despite this, patients seeking to exit Gaza via the Erez crossing are often unable to do so. Al Jazeera English covered this issue in 2010 in their documentary ‘Born in Gaza’. Filmmaker Casey Kaufmann followed a family’s race against time to secure a permit for their young son, Firas, to travel to Israel for heart surgery. Sadly Firas died before being able to reach the care he urgently needed.

Seven years later, the situation has only deteriorated further. In January 2017, more than half of all patients applying to leave were denied or delayed by the Israeli authorities, meaning missed appointments and endangering recovery. Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)  and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI) highlighted these issues in their recent briefing and infographic on barriers to healthcare access for Palestinian patients.

Al Jazeera English recently spoke to Rohan Talbot, Campaigns and Media Officer at MAP, to hear what impact these restrictions continue to have on the lives of patients in Gaza:

“Seven years ago we might have been talking about roughly 20 percent of permits being denied or delayed. Last year the average rate was a third of permits being denied or delayed. … People usually find out if they have been successful the evening before they are due to travel. So if you don’t get a response, that effectively means you miss your appointment, and you can’t get to care.”

Rohan emphasised that it is not just patients themselves struggling to exit Gaza, but also those seeking to accompany patients – especially children – to their hospital appointments. This was recently highlighted in MAP’s film about baby Maryam, who was separated from her mother for six months because of the permit regime:

“When a child is going for treatment, they’ll need someone to go with them, to take care of them and provide support inside hospital. But the restrictions that are in place mean that anybody who is between 18-55 is unlikely to get a permit. That means for children, usually their parents are within that age range - in fact only about six percent of Gaza’s population are over the age of 55 - and they are finding it increasingly difficult to get these permits to accompany children.”

Restrictions on the freedom of movement for patients must end, and ultimately so too must the blockade of Gaza and the occupation. This is not just a moral responsibility, but also a legal one:

“We are talking about a situation of 50 years of occupation and ten years of blockade and closure, and over that period of time we’ve seen it’s more and more difficult for patients to get to care. Israel is still the occupying power in Gaza, and it has a legal obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure that the population it occupies have adequate access to medical care.”

You can watch the full documentary and interview here.

In June, Palestinians will mark 50 years under occupation, and a decade under blockade in Gaza. Palestinians and people across Britain are calling on the UK government to take action to bring these man-made humanitarian crises to an end. 

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