Al Mezan: IOF Continues to Blackmail Gaza Patients

15 November 2008

From the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza City

The Israeli Occupation Forces continue to blackmail the Palestinian patients who need to travel for treatment in Israeli hospitals or Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank. They seek to travel outside Gaza due to the deteriorating conditions of the Palestinian health system, which is unable to deal with their critical medical conditions. Such practices of the IOF continue on a semi-regular basis amidst the ongoing, tight siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and the continued silence of the international community.

According to Al Mezan field investigations, Khalid Abu Shammala, 38, passed away on Tuesday morning, 28 October 2008, after he was denied access to a hospital. The IOF at Erez asked him to collaborate with them otherwise he would not go through to the West Bank. Abu Shammala underwent a surgery to plant a supporting rod in his coronary artery in early 2006 in Ein Shams Hospital in Cairo, Egypt. His medical condition started deteriorating in July 2007 as an obstruction was detected inside the planted rod. It is noteworthy that the deceased was married with four children.

Abu Shammala was granted a referral to receive treatment in an Israeli hospital in late July 2007. He started to coordinate his travel through Erez Crossing. On Tuesday, 9 September 2008, he was interviewed by the Israeli intelligence at the Crossing. He was called for an interview in spite of his critical medical condition. He suffered from abdominal bloating due to liver malfunction.

During the interview, an Israeli officer told him that he was allowed to travel. However, while Abu Shammala was on his way home, the same officer called him and said that their conversation did not finish and asked him to return to his office on the following day. Abu Shammala tried to explain that he could not return because of his critical medical condition, however, the officer insisted that he returns, otherwise he would not be allowed to pass. On the following day, Abu Shammala went to the intelligence office at the Crossing. To his surprise, the Israeli officer asked him to collaborate with him and he would be granted access to the hospital in Israel. When Abu Shammala rejected his offer, the intelligence officer told him to go home, saying: ‘Khalid, God cures. Go back to Gaza to receive treatment.’

The deceased refused to collaborate with the Israeli intelligence and sought to obtain another medical referral to a different hospital. He secured another referral to Palestine Hospital in Cairo but he could not travel out of Gaza because the borders were closed. He stayed at the European Gaza Hospital during this time until he was announced dead at around 8:00am on Tuesday, 28 October 2008.

It is noteworthy that a press conference was held by Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-Israel) on Monday, 4 August 2008. They announced that Israeli security agents practice pressure on a number of Palestinian patients who need treatment in Israeli hospitals. Patients are asked to collaborate with those agents as informers.

PHR-Israel said that it documented over 30 cases of Gaza patients who needed treatment in Israel but were returned to the Strip when they refused to collaborate with the Israeli security agents. The cases include cancer patients and heart patients who need treatment that is unavailable in the Gaza Strip.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns the blackmail policy applied by the IOF, where security agents bargain patients for their right to life and life-saving medical treatment. The Center emphasizes that Abu Shammala was not the first case and warns that it will not be the last if the international community continue to be unable to protect the life of civilians in the OPT and put an end to the tight siege imposed on Gaza.

Therefore, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights once again calls the international community to take immediate action and assume its legal and ethical responsibility for civilians in the OPT in general and the Gaza Strip in particular. The international community has a duty to end the tightened siege, which represents one of the worst forms of collective punishments according to the rules of the IHL.