From Gaza to Geneva: leaving Palestine for the first time to speak at the UN

Last week Haitham Al Saqqa, MAP’s Programme Assistant in Gaza, joined MAP colleagues in Geneva to brief states on the right to health of Palestinians and the rights of Palestinians with disabilities ahead of Israel’s Universal Period Review (UPR).

It was Haitham’s first time outside of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Applying to travel was a lengthy process, requiring a visa from Switzerland, a permit to exit Gaza from Israel and a non-objection letter from Jordan to fly out of Amman. Haitham only found out he had all the paperwork the night before he was due to travel and he emphasised the uncertainty this caused him and his family. He also reflected that this process posed much more serious consequences for patients needing urgent medical care outside of Gaza and this was an issue he raised with missions in Geneva.  

At the UN Haitham delivered a statement on behalf of MAP to member states ahead of Israel’s UPR. All UN member states undergo a UPR review of their human rights record, a process which is peer-led, where states scrutinise each-other’s human rights record, make recommendations for how it can be improved, and examine progress against recommendations between five-year cycles. The meeting gave MAP and other human rights organisations an important opportunity to feed into Israel’s UPR.

At the meeting Israel stated that one of the issues they will focusing on in their UPR will be the promotion and protection of the rights of people with disabilities. Haitham’s speech emphasised the need for Israel, as an occupying power, to also meet its legal obligations to protect the human rights of the local population in the Palestinian territory, including the rights of Palestinians with disabilities.

Haitham shared how he and others with disabilities in the oPt, seven per cent of the population, face serious violations to their human rights. Before travelling, Haitham met with people involved in MAP’s disability project in Gaza, a quarter of whom had been disabled by explosive weapons used by the Israeli military. They informed the issues Haitham raised, including the death of one of the groups’ friends. An 18-year-old woman with a physical disability, who had been involved in MAP’s project, died alone in her family house on 13 August 2014, after her father was unable to evacuate her during an Israeli military attack. Haitham emphasised that during Israel’s military offensives on Gaza, Palestinians with disabilities - including those with mobility restrictions, hearing and visual impairments - had severe difficulty evacuating civilian buildings which came under attack, increasing their risk of injury and death. When preliminary warnings were given by Israel, these were often not effective or broadcast long enough in advance of an attack for some individuals with disabilities to evacuate safely.

Haitham also discussed barriers obstructing Palestinian patients’ access to medical treatment, including restrictions on the movement of patients and Palestinian registered ambulances. He also addressed Israel’s failure to protect Palestinian medical facilities and personnel or to ensure independent investigations into such attacks.

In addition to delivering a statement, MAP briefed the UK, Belgium, Ireland, Germany and Italy and met with the representatives from the EU. We also met with the offices of the Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights in the oPt and Persons with Disabilities.

Please click the link below, if you would like to join MAP in calling for access and protection for healthcare in the oPt and the promotion of the rights of Palestinians with disabilities in Israel’s upcoming UPR.

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