GAZA – The United Nations said on Wednesday Israel’s blockade of Gaza undermines the enclave’s healthcare system and puts patients at risk.
Max Gaylard, resident Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said Israel was to be commended for letting Palestinians from Gaza access specialist medical care but could save more lives by allowing more timely treatment.
“It is causing ongoing deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health,” he said. “It is hampering the provision of medical supplies and the training of health staff and it is preventing patients with serious medical conditions getting timely specialised treatment.”
“We have had extreme cases of patients dying because they could not get out to get the more advanced medical care in Israel,” Gaylard told Reuters in an interview after presenting a report on the situation at a Gaza news conference.
“It is quite true that hundreds of patients do get out to Israel. That has been happening on a continuing basis. That is good and we welcome it and the Israelis are to be commended for that,” he said. “I think we are concerned about the ones who do not go out and there are too many of them.”
One year later
One year after Israel’s offensive on Hamas-ruled Gaza, UN agencies and the Association for International Development Agencies (AIDA), representing over 80 NGOs, issued a report highlighting the health impact of the blockade.
They again called on Israel to relax its tight control of the Gaza Strip’s borders to allow sufficient supply of essential items and let people seek care not available in the enclave.
Gaza student Fida Hejji, 18, died of cancer waiting for Israeli permission to go to an Israeli hospital for treatment.
She was promised an entry permit three times. Three days after she died last November, her family got a hospital date.
Hejji had hoped to get life-saving treatment in Israel as other Gazans have done. The Egyptian border is also closed.
“In her [Hejji’s] last days she used to ask when she could rest, and when all her pain would come to an end,” said her mother Shadia. “I knew she was dying.”
Israel generally permits supplies of drugs into Gaza but not always enough to prevent shortages. Certain medical equipment such as X-ray and electronic devices are difficult to bring in and clinical staff frequently lack equipment they need.
Israel says it approves most requests by Gazan patients to cross its border for treatment, and there has been a 25 per cent increase in approvals since 2008 – data supported by World Health Organisation findings issued by Gaylard’s office.
“Not only are we doing our utmost to allow the people of Gaza every possible medical treatment, but we are doing this in a situation in which their own government is imposing a state of war and trying deliberately to harm Israelis, including those whose mission is to assist the very people of Gaza,” said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry.
Too late for some
The UN report said 1,103 patients sought permits for treatment in Israel in December 2009. Most succeeded but 21 per cent were denied or delayed, as a result of which patients missed their hospital appointments and had to restart.
“Two patients died recently while awaiting referral – one in November and one in December,” it said. In total, “27 patients have died while awaiting referral” in 2009.
Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in a 1967 war. The ensuing occupation saw limited Palestinian scope for developing an autonomous health service. Israel left in 2005 but the result was far from the peaceful coexistence it might have hoped for.
Critics accuse Israel of applying collective punishment to Gaza’s 1.5 million people, who are ruled by an elected Islamist government of the Hamas movement. Hamas refuses to recognise Israel and preaches armed struggle until its destruction.
Hamas remains in control despite the hammering Gaza took in the offensive Israel launched a year ago to stop the firing of rockets and mortars aimed at southern Israeli towns.
The UN said Gaza’s economy and environment were in a poor state, with inevitable consequences for health, and it noted that half the population are children.
“The humanitarian community is gravely concerned about the future of this generation whose health needs are not being met.
“The decline in infant mortality, which has occurred steadily over recent decades, has stalled in the last few years.”
Israel refuses to let Gaza have materials that can be put to military use. It says the Palestinians are too ready to blame all ills on Israel, and should not be ungrateful for the medical aid Israeli doctors and hospitals provide.
Israel’s offensive damaged 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 43 of its 110 primary healthcare facilities, the report said.
Some 1,400 Palestinians died in the bombing and shelling, and Israel lost 13 citizens in the December 27 – January 18 offensive of 2008-2009. Rocket and mortar fire into Israel from Gaza dropped off dramatically in 2009, but has never entirely ceased.
The damage cannot be fixed until Israel allows construction materials into Gaza, the report said. Meanwhile, doctors and nurses are cut off from learning the latest techniques abroad.
“The new surgical wing in Gaza’s main Shifa Hospital has remained unfinished since 2006,” the report noted.
Nafeth Enaeem, head of Shifa’s kidney department, said dialysis treatments had to be carefully rationed last year, which he said was the worst in terms of health conditions.
“Sometimes a cable for a machine took three months of coordination with the Israeli side to get into Gaza,” he said.
This I suppose is Israels answer.
Israel has stopped issuing work permits to foreign aid workers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
James Hider in Jerusalem
January 21 2010
Israel has stopped issuing work permits to foreign aid workers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, sparking fears about the future of relief operations in the Palestinian territories.
The Israeli Interior Ministry has issued only tourist visas to aid groups such as Oxfam, Médecins sans Frontières and Save the Children since before Christmas. They say that their legal situation is now precarious and that some staff have been denied entry by Israeli border officials who also control all entry to the West Bank.
The move came amid pressure from right-wing Israeli groups to crack down on non-governmental organisations, which are often seen as having a political, anti-Israeli bias. Early last year an Israeli group, NGO monitor, forced the New York-based Human Rights Watch to suspend a weapons specialist who had written a scathing report on Israel’s use of white phosphorus during its Gaza offensive. The group tracked down anonymous comments that the researcher had made on online discussions for collectors of Nazi memorabilia.
Some left-wing Israeli groups have accused Israel of “declaring war” on foreign groups such as Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, which have been critical of Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Aid groups are now worried that the decision by the Interior Ministry could inhibit their work to provide medical support, welfare and basic supplies to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
“We are now in a very precarious legal position,” said Jean-Luc Lambert, head of Médecins sans Frontières in Jerusalem: “We can’t get B1 [working] visas, only [tourist] visas, and with this it is not permitted for us to work.”
Mr Lambert said that aid groups had been given verbal reassurances from the Israeli authorities that they would be able to continue their operations in the 60 per cent of the West Bank under Israeli control, in Arab East Jerusalem and in Gaza — whose only open crossings are on its frontier with Israel, controlled by Israeli forces.
During the Israeli offensive against Gaza, however, the authorities prevented many aid groups from entering the area, raising concerns about the value of any verbal agreement. “This leaves NGOs vulnerable to border guards’ interpretation of the rules,” said Mr Lambert, making the development a serious source of concern for 150 international organisations.
He said that technically, under the new rules, he could not work in his East Jerusalem headquarters, nor hold a meeting in the predominantly Arab half of the city that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and which both sides claim as their capital.
“Officially, East Jerusalem belongs to the West Bank, but for Israelis it belongs to Israel.”
Another Western aid worker said there was a fear in the aid community that the move was a first step towards expelling them from East Jerusalem, where Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has said that Jewish settlement building will continue despite protests from the United States and the European Union. “There’s a feeling that we are going to be pushed out of East Jerusalem,” he said.
The Interior Ministry denied that visas had been stopped and said that if aid organisation workers spent most of their time in the West Bank they would need to apply to the Palestinian Authority or the Israeli Army for permits.
Aid workers said that they usually worked in both Israel and the West Bank, with their logistical hubs in the former, with its access to international sea, land and air routes, while bringing relief to Palestinians in the isolated West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Interior Ministry said that it was holding discussions with the army about how to deal with such cases.
NGOs operating in Gaza also worry that a lack of work permits could mean that they would not be able to enter the sealed-off coastal enclave through Israel, and may have to take in supplies through Egypt.
Catherine Weibel, of Oxfam, said that the issue of Israeli work permits was generating much anguish among foreign aid workers, many of whom worry that they could be denied permission to re-enter.
NGO Monitor goes after all Human Rights organizations. NGO Monitor is is a group set up to harrass Human Rights organisations.
Not a very impressive group. They go after groups like Amnesty International or the Red cross even. So anything they have to say should be totally ignored by everyone.
It rates right up there with Honest Reporting or Camera.
They rather remind me of Fox TV. Anything but honest or fair.
Just more or less lobby groups. All Pro Israel and send thousands of letters to whoever they wish to annoy.
Anything to stop the truth about Israel from being told.