The obstacle course to becoming a doctor

Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Photo by Eman Mohammed

A few years ago, when Razan (real name withheld) finished five years of medical school at the prestigious Cairo University, she returned home to the Gaza Strip. After completing her year of practical training in hospitals in Gaza, she planned to take the Palestinian Medical Board exam and receive her license to practice medicine in the Palestinian health care system. The board exams are held twice a year in Ramallah.

In January 2018, Razan, then 25 years old, contacted Gisha to ask for assistance obtaining a permit from Israel to travel to Ramallah via Erez Crossing and take the exam on February 20. She filed a permit application, enclosing a letter from the medical board, as required. We contacted Israeli authorities to inquire about the status of the application. A week later they responded, stating: “After review, the authorized officials decided to deny the application for security reasons, which naturally cannot be disclosed.”

Razan was surprised by the refusal. She couldn’t think of anything in her life that might tie her to “security” matters. Gisha filed a High Court petition on her behalf. A hearing was scheduled for the day before the exam. As the hearing drew closer, the State Attorney’s Office notified us that the state had reversed its initial position; Razan’s permit application was approved after all. The security grounds, which, only moments before, were considered reason enough to put Razan’s career as a physician at risk, had simply evaporated.

Six months later, Razan, now a licensed doctor, needed to travel to Ramallah for another exam, this time for internship selection. Gisha inquired on her behalf with the Israeli authorities, who claimed that no application had been received. Oddly, that same day, Razan received a text message that stated her application was being processed. The news that she had been granted a permit arrived on the morning of the exam. Razan rushed to Erez Crossing, which should take no more than half an hour to cross, but typically takes hours. By the time she arrived in Ramallah, the exam was well underway; she had missed it, and with that, her career was put on hold for six months.

Razan’s bureaucratic ordeal did not end there. Half a year later, the ritual was repeated. She applied for a permit, which Israel initially denied “for security reasons, which naturally cannot be disclosed.” Once again, we took the case to court. About 24 hours after the petition was filed, the State Attorney’s Office said Razan would in fact receive a permit. The automatically invoked security grounds had magically disappeared, again.

Razan eventually took the exam and continues to practice medicine in Gaza. But there is no happy ending to this story, because there is no end to Israel’s permit regime in sight. Years before restrictions were implemented to curb the spread of the pandemic, and to this day, Gaza residents who needed to travel, for whatever reason, face an endless maze of bureaucratic obstacles designed to minimize their movement, especially to the West Bank.

Today the world can better grasp the uncertainty and obstacles that residents of Gaza experience on a daily basis. Israel must not resume the closure policy once the coronavirus threat is over.

Razan’s pseudonym was chosen as a tribute to the 21-year-old paramedic from the Gaza Strip, Razan al-Najar, who was killed by an Israeli soldier two years ago, as she was treating protestors near the fence. Razan al-Najar won’t be able to fulfill her potential. The loss is all of ours.

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