We Are Not Numbers: Israeli Court Reverses Ban On Critically Ill Gazans Getting Medical Care, But Too Late For Scores Who Have Already Died


Gazan women protesting Israeli barbarism. Photo by Mohammed Asad/APA. Front photo by ActiveStills

In a bittersweet victory for four human rights groups advocating for seven ill Gazan women denied access to lifesaving medical treatment, the Israeli High Court has ruled that Israel's ban on such access - aka its repugnant use of sick people as bargaining chips against its perceived enemies - was illegal, ineffective and "contrary to the basic principles to which we are committed,” at least allegedly. The four Israeli and Palestinian groups - Adalah, Al Mezan, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Gisha – had petitioned the court on behalf of seven women variously suffering from breast, thyroid, spine, lung and kidney cancer, and all denied permission to cross into Israel for care because they were “first-degree relatives of Hamas members." After the petition was filed, Israel admitted it had wrongly identified two of the women; by the time it was approved, one woman had died and one was too sick to endure the bureaucratic hurdles erected by Israel for an exit permit.

Israel's depraved directive to refuse access to critical treatment - thus often rendering illness a death sentence - stemmed from a 2017 effort to pressure Hamas to release two Israeli civilians thought held by the group, and to return the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza offensive. Since its inception, at least 54 Gazans, some as young as four, have died while awaiting Israeli permits to leave through the Erez Crossing for chemotherapy and other care only available in the West Bank or Israel. So far this year, rights groups report, Israel has denied exit permits to nearly 800 Gazans seeking treatment, which is paid by the Palestinian Authority, and follow-up care for at least 45 women cancer patients has been significantly delayed. Many of the sick are left for months in an untenable limbo, being repeatedly told their application "is under consideration" and growing increasingly incapacitated as they wait for a piece of paper that never comes.

This barbaric practice, charged a recent letter by 30 Israeli oncologists and Physicians for Human Rights, "breaks new records of apathy...It is unreasonable according to any ethical, humanitarian or international standard, whether this is done due to bureaucratic excuses of which there is never a shortage, or ‘security’ pretexts that are always readily available." This week's court ruling concurred, calling the policy "contrary to the basic principles to which we are committed...Using a patient in desperate need of lifesaving medical treatment, who no one claims is herself involved in activities against the State of Israel, as a 'pressure lever' is not compatible with the values of the State of Israel, and cannot stand legally."


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Rights groups warily welcomed the finding that the policy is "in contravention of international human rights norms," "contradicts the most basic of values," and "marked a new and shameful low in Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza residents." It added, "However, it is most regrettable that it required three Supreme Court justices to raise a black flag over a policy that, from the very start, was clearly cruel and illegal." They also noted, as have many others, that the ruling revokes "just the latest manifestation" of the abuses of an Occupation that has inflicted on besieged Gazans, especially women, "a lifetime of suffering" - unmet critical humanitarian needs, ongoing casualties, a lack of basic services coupled with dire warnings about the future, and a grim litany of daily indignities, like the video of a Palestinian girl forced to climb a newly built Israeli fence blockading her West Bank house. "A girl tries to go home, just like yours, except that she was born in Hebron," wrote an Israeli activist with Breaking the Silence on Twitter. “Don’t worry - it’s not because we’ve made them less than humans, it’s about 'security.'”

Empty hospital beds while people die. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP

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