Gazans Denied Medical Care under Siege

Two recent reports discuss it, a July Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-IL) one titled, “A Situation Report on Obstacles Facing Gaza Residents in Need of Medical Treatment,” and a June one titled, “Who Gets to Go,” jointly prepared by PHR-IL, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. All cite Israeli medical ethics and international law violations by discriminating on the basis of need, denying adequate treatment to seriously ill Gazans by preventing the restoration and development of the Strip’s healthcare system; and restricting travel to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Israel, or neighboring countries for treatment.

In its July report, PHR-IL said Gaza’s health care system is getting progressively worse “due to a lack of medical expertise, medicine(s) and medical equipment,” the ICRC recently saying it’s “at an all time low.” 

In June, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Israel blocked delivery of essential equipment, including a CT scanner, defibrillators and monitors. In addition, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Israel confiscated seven oxygen machines, donated by a Norwegian development agency, and blocked x-ray machine deliveries, claiming they were dual-use, meaning possibly for military purposes.

As a result, critical shortages of most everything exist, including vital medicines, essential equipment, and other supplies expected to run out this summer, harming chronic disease sufferers the most, hampered by draconian impediments for permission to leave Gaza for treatment — what PHR-IL calls “an inexcusable breach of medical ethics” based on political, not medical, considerations, most non-life threatening cases denied, including ones PHR-IL calls urgent, such as for:

Paraplegia; retinal detachement; SLE (Lupus); foreign body in vitreous; subluxated lens; chronic severe febrile anemia; fever(s) of unknown origin (FUO); traumatic macular hole; psychomotor retardation; anemia; suspected abdominal abnormal vascular pressure; suspected chronic intestinal disease; psedoarthrosis (non-union of fractured bones) – arms, hand; infected plate – hip; deformation of cornea; recurrent dislocation of shoulder; lumbar discopathy; opacity of vitreous; (and) malformation of urinary tract.

Numerous other non-urgent/non-life-threatening ones are also denied, some chronic, severe, painful and/or disabling, badly in need of treatment, including a 24 year old Gaza resident shot in the arm in October 2007, unable to use his hand because of atrophied muscle tissue around the wound area. 

As a result, he suffers severe pain, orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Yosef Leitner, saying a tendon transfer is the only hope to restore proper hand functioning, Gaza’s Al Shifaa Hospital (the Strip’s largest and most advanced) with neither the means or staff to perform it. 

In August 2009, an exit request was submitted to receive treatment in East Jerusalem’s Al Makassed Hospital. Initially denied, it was appealed and again denied – unprincipled, unethical, illegal, and common practice against Gazans under siege, PHR-IL saying:

“… all patients are entitled to the best available medical treatment, regardless of the urgency… or the severity of their clinical state,” legitimate distinctions only permissible in cases of limited resources (such as after a natural disaster), even then for the shortest time possible to restore proper care to everyone in need.

Under international law, denying medical care is illegal, Fourth Geneva’s Article 3 saying all non-combatants and those having laid down their arms “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely” with no distinctions for any reasons.

Article 16 states:

The wounded and sick, as well as the infirm, and expectant mothers, shall be the object of particular protection and respect.

The UN’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment prohibits mistreatment in any form (including denying medical treatment), as do the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Constitution of the International Criminal Court (the Rome Statute), and civilized countries globally, Israel and America not among them. 

An Israeli Supreme Court decision provides an example, approving restrictions to exit Gaza for treatment, with narrow exceptions, ignored by government officials because the ruling left has final authority in their hands, an easy cop-out to permit cruel and unusual punishment to continue, what PHR-IL calls “routine, permanent policy,”  unethical, immoral, illegal, and deplorable.

Medical training outside Gaza is also denied, Fatah in charge of Ramallah’s Health Ministry, collaborating with Israel against its own people, blocking training and treatment of many, persecuting and abusing many more,  acting as Israel’s enforcer, its duplicitous, self-serving agenda.

In addition, Israel prohibits its own or foreign doctors entering Gaza to provide treatment or professional training. Its authorities rejected two recent requests for a Ramallah Musallam Center team to come, to perform eye surgery and cornea transplants, most patients in need rejected or subjected to long delays.

For the past year, PHR-IL medical delegations were denied entry to Gaza, ones operating in 2008 as part of its Mobile Clinic, providing treatment, surgeries,  medications, training, counseling, and referring patients for follow-up treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Repressive Security Services

In 2009, Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, interrogated over 600 of the thousands of Gazans applying for treatment exit permission. Usually, patients are summoned “after their hospital appointment date(s) passed,” causing them to lose out and have to reschedule. In addition, many face “threats and extortion… health (for) ransom,” collaborate or be denied, a choice most won’t accept.

In other cases, Shin Bet summons patients to Erez Crossing (on the pretext of permission to leave), arresting and detaining them instead — a Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) worker as well, part of a paramedic/ambulance driver team en route to a Ramallah training course, arrested and imprisoned in Israel.

In January 2010, Adalah complained officially to Israel’s Attorney General, the Prime Minister’s office saying:

“The State of Israel reserves the right to detain elements who seek medical treatments in Israel following information that they are terror activists or that their entry to Israel might pose a security risk,” common Israeli boilerplate — disingenuous, duplicitous, and dishonest justification for repressive state policy, including against seriously ill patients and medical workers providing care.

Israeli also denies quality care outside Gaza and the West Bank, even in East Jerusalem where treatment is better. In some cases, follow-up permission is denied (including for rehabilitation) for those initially allowed in, leaving them in limbo, unable to get what they need.

Dr. Danny Rozin, an internal medicine expert at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, said the following:

It is important to understand that in many cases providing a complete, effective treatment requires more than a one-time appointment and many patients need follow-up, post-surgery checks, or an additional medical or rehabilitative treatment…. The lack of continuity might bring about a failure of treatment in part or in full and resources allocated to treat patients might go down the drain. Sometimes there is also a real danger that the patient will suffer functional damage or even lose his life…. Preventing the continuity of treatment harms patients and is inconsistent with the many efforts made by medical staff to provide full and optimal care.

It also violates international law and medical ethics, what Israeli authorities disdain and spurn. PHR-IL says it’s illogical and inconsistent that a patient given permission “suddenly becomes a security threat” and is denied. It reinforces the notion that politics and repressive policy are at issue, not security, a duplicitous red herring.

Israel further denies permission for West Bank treatment, saying patients might stay with their families — their legal right, unrelated to security, entirely state-sanctioned repression, part of enforcing Gaza’s siege.

Another part involves confiscating patients’ belongings on returning home after treatment, forced on reentry to leave behind whatever they bought or were given, including medical equipment, clothing, toys and other non-threatening items — another way to harass and intimidate.

A Final Comment

As a result of Israel’s post-January 2006 embargo, its siege since June 2007, Cast Lead, regular incursions, and its longstanding collective punishment policy, Gaza’s health care system is “at an all time low.” Many of the Strip’s sick and injured lack proper care, or enough, in violation of medical ethics and international law explicitly prohibiting these practices.

“As an occupying power, (Israel bears full) responsibility for the health of Gaza’s residents,” including to treatment outside the Strip, unconditionally without constraints, authorities denying it as collective punishment – prohibited under international law, what, throughout its history, Israel disdainfully spurned.

Stephen Lendman wrote How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Contact him at: Also visit his blog site and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM-1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening. Read other articles by Stephen.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. richie said on July 26th, 2010 at 9:26pm #

    In case you haven’t noticed, Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza any more.

  2. mary said on July 26th, 2010 at 11:51pm #

    Yes they now sit on the border and blast the people as if they were wild game. The other day two children were killed and others injured by shells containing flechettes fired into Beit Hanoun, Northen Gaza.

    Two dead and four children injured in Israeli nail bomb attack in Beit Hanoun, Gaza
    July 22, 2010
    By ISM Gaza | 22 July 2010

    This on the Hasbara attempts to portray Gaza as a bustling seat of commerce. Shopping mall?

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 27th, 2010 at 3:20am #

    Well done richie. The Big Lie,yet again. Israel ‘..doesn’t occupy’ Gaza in exactly the same manner that Nazi Germany,(from which Israel has learned so much,including the efficacy of ‘Big Lies’) did not occupy the Warsaw Ghetto.They merely control all the exits, regularly bomb the defenceless inhabitants,carry out death-squad raids and kidnappings and are slowly starving them into submission.I’ve always wanted to ask a Zionazi diehard-why are the Israelis so cowardly as well as sadistic?
    Back to the human race-mary,have you noticed the real plethora of recent articles,most written by Jewish fascists, but by their Sabbat Goy stooges as well, directly equating Islam with Nazism? I’ve seen a few,in Murdoch’s sewer of course, with biased and tendentious examination of Nazi alliances with Bosnian Moslems amongst others, and directly asserting a link, and implying,of course, that it is ongoing and intrinsic, between Nazism and Islam.Not Islam-ism,or Islamofascism, but Islam itself. Apparently our Zionist friends are entering the end-stage of their descent into open fascism and racism, and preparing the Western publics for some great G…d-ordained atrocity, (obviously the Iranians are prime suspects as the intended victims)but that will be OK because Moslems are Nazis. To do their bit for their Zionist masters, the ZBC on Radio 4 ran a mockumentary last night entitled ‘Hitler’s Moslem Legions’ or some such crap. I spared my blood pressure the ordeal, but I’m waiting, with bated breath, for the companion documentary on the German Jews, thousands of them,who fought for the Nazis throughout the war, even as their co-religionists were being butchered. Or perhaps on the deal between Zionist leaders to give up Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers in return for young Zionists being given safe passage to Palestine.When,mary, do you expect we will see and hear those documentaries aired, by the ZBC- ‘Fair and Balanced’?

  4. richie said on July 27th, 2010 at 3:54am #

    The Israeli occupation of Gaza , which began in 1967, ended in two phases: Israel withdrew from most of the territory as part of the implementation of the Oslo accords, which were signed in 1993. In 2005 the withdrawal was completed , with the Sharon “disengagement” plan and the evacuation of the settlements there.
    “Occupation ” means control of the territory and the population. The Hamas terrorists are firmly in control of both.
    Mary, here’s the new shopping mall again.
    I’m not responsible for the sarcastic captions. Are you accusing me of inventing a non-existent mall?

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 27th, 2010 at 7:50am #

    Oh,richie,you just won’t give up will you, doing your Holy Work. Israel withdrew its illegal (you forgot the word) ‘settlements’ (I’d prefer ‘Zionist infestations’) in 2005 all right, but maintained ‘effective control’, as the real international community acknowledges. It immediately blockaded Gazan exports, and, after Hamas won the 2006 election, continued to tighten its siege.
    Now, under international law, collective punishment of an entire population for voting the wrong way,is a major humanitarian crime. I know that under Judaic Law it is actually deemed a mitzvah or good deed to kill civilians, including children, but,forgive me, I think I’ll stick with ‘Christian morality’ such as it is. As for Hamas, they are the elected government, and freedom fighters resisting one of the vilest racist regimes in history, the real terrorists, to whom you give total allegiance.