Last weekend, the heartbreaking story of Aisha Lulu, a five-year-old girl from the Gaza Strip who died after undergoing complex surgery in a hospital in east Jerusalem, circulated widely on social media. Aisha died in Gaza after spending a month in the Jerusalem hospital without her mother and father by her side.
For some time now, Israel has been making it increasingly difficult to exit Gaza to accompany patients on their way to receiving life-saving treatment outside of the Strip. As early as 2015, we reported that Israel began implementing further restrictions on the movement of patients’ companions, and especially so for people younger than 55. We addressed the issue together with our partners, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel.
Children and youth under 18-years-old who require life-saving medical treatment that is unavailable in Gaza are allowed, according to narrow criteria set by Israel for movement to and from the Strip, to exit with an accompanying parent, or another adult. This necessitates an additional permit from Israel, which involves submitting medical documents and undergoing a security screening. For individuals under the age of 55, the security screening process takes longer. Parents of young children therefore are often confronted with the impossible choice of delaying their child’s care or finding a companion who is over 55 and forfeiting being at their child’s side.
In recent years, the percentage of Gaza patients exiting the Strip without companions has increased significantly – from approximately 7 percent of patients in 2014 to about 14 percent of patients so far in 2019. More patients are traveling to treatment unaccompanied, as fewer companions are being granted permits to be with their loved ones while they undergo treatment.
According to the latest statistics from the World Health Organization (link in comments), in March 2019, Israel approved only 53 percent of permit applications submitted by patients’ companions. Five percent were denied; 42 percent were left pending without response from Israeli authorities. These are applications to accompany patients who need urgent treatment that cannot be postponed.
The closure enforced by Israel leads to unimaginable suffering and intolerable situations for residents of Gaza, and it must end. Israel must allow Palestinians in Gaza to exercise their fundamental human right to freedom of movement.