On 26 June 2020, a group of civil society organisations submitted a joint urgent appeal to United Nations (UN) Special Procedures urging immediate access to healthcare for Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip. This appeal highlights the denial of access to healthcare for Gaza patients and the cruel and inhuman conditions imposed on both patients and their companions when seeking treatment outside Gaza. The appeal highlights the cases of two Palestinian infants who died over the past week after being denied access to the treatment they needed, and details the cases of Palestinian patients who are currently denied access to treatment. Accordingly, the appeal requests the intervention of UN human rights experts in urging the fulfilment of the right to health of Palestinians.
Israel’s prolonged occupation and closure undermine every aspect of life for Palestinians in Gaza, not least their right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The closure has a devastating effect on economic determinants of health, leading to deep poverty and some of the highest rates of unemployment in the world, as well as civil and political health determinants, that are eviscerated by Israel’s pervasive impunity and the absence of international justice and accountability for widespread and systematic human rights violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed against the Palestinian people.
The current situation is a desperate one for Gaza patients, who currently face no avenue to access health services needed outside the Gaza Strip. Israel’s permit system, an integral part of the illegal closure of Gaza, is an arbitrary and unnecessary measure that unlawfully preconditions urgent and lifesaving care for thousands of Palestinians. Israel’s arbitrary permit system is an integral part of the illegal closure regime, both of which must ultimately be dismantled. The closure has driven Gaza’s healthcare system to the brink of collapse, with the unavailability of essential medicines, supplies, and equipment, thereby contributing to the de-development of Palestinian healthcare. As such, for many Palestinian patients, treatment is only available outside of the Gaza Strip, subject to severe movement restrictions and a complex permit regime imposed by the Israeli occupying authorities, violating Palestinians’ right to the highest attainable standard of health, and in the most extreme cases, their right to life.
On 19 May 2020, in response to impending Israeli annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank, the State of Palestine declared that it was absolved of all agreements with Israel, the Occupying Power, including security agreements. The Palestinian Ministry of Health continues to issue referrals for patients to facilities outside of Gaza and for West Bank patients to East Jerusalem, but these patients are required by Israeli occupying authorities to apply for permits and they currently have no official means to do so. All referral patients have been identified by medical practitioners and the Palestinian Ministry of Health as having an essential need for treatment that is otherwise unavailable in Gaza. A significant proportion of patients are referred on an urgent or lifesaving basis.
The current health crisis facing Gaza’s patients pre-dates the State of Palestine’s cessation of coordination with the Israeli occupation. Instead, it lies in Israel’s maintenance of its arbitrary permit system as part of the illegal closure. Preconditioning healthcare on Israeli-issued permits is an unnecessary barrier that has long violated the right to health of Palestinians. Following the cessation of coordination and given the current deadlock in the system, it is incumbent upon the Israeli occupying authorities to provide a safe and expeditious alternative to the permit system—one that fulfils the fundamental rights of Palestinian patients and lives up to international standards concerning the right to health under occupation. Access to essential healthcare as well as enjoyment of the underlying determinants of health are core attributes of the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
The appeal, submitted by Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), was addressed to four UN Special Procedures mandate holders, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Mr S. Michael Lynk, as well as the Special Rapporteurs on health, torture and ill-treatment, and racism.
The organisations urged the mandate holders to urgently take the necessary measures to ensure that Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip are guaranteed their right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including urgent access to healthcare, and, accordingly, to:
- Send an urgent communication calling on Israel, the Occupying Power, to immediately grant permits to Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip for treatment in the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, or elsewhere, and to ensure that there are no delays or discrimination in access to healthcare;
- Condemn the Israeli occupying authorities’ denial of access to healthcare for Palestinian patients, in particular from the Gaza Strip, and urge that Israel, the Occupying Power, uphold the right of all Palestinians to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, in particular during the COVID-19 outbreak; and
- Issue a press release calling on Israel, the Occupying Power, to lift its illegal closure of the Gaza Strip with immediate effect, as recommended by UN treaty bodies and the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the occupied Palestinian territory, and as adopted in accountability resolution 40/13 by Member States of the UN Human Rights Council on 22 March 2019.
To read the full urgent appeal sent on 26 June 2020 to UN Special Procedures, click here.
 Recent materials on the Gaza closure were compiled by Al-Haq, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and Medical Aid for Palestinians in a blog that marks 13 years of illegal Israeli closure. The blog, part of the Gaza2020 campaign, calls for the immediate lifting of the Gaza closure: https://medium.com/@lifttheclosure/its-2020-lift-the-gaza-closure-c3f586611c11. The blog also contains a page on health and healthcare in Gaza: https://medium.com/@lifttheclosure/health-and-healthcare-in-gaza-ba6e28405b76.