Israel would no longer be able to deny medical treatment to Gazans solely on the pretext of having relatives dwelling in the West Bank without permit, and could no longer make travel permits required by patients for medical purposes contingent on the return of their relatives to Gaza. This is the substance of a ruling recently given by the High Court of Justice on a petition by Physicians for Human Rights (Jaffa) and Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza).
The petition sought to revoke the Israeli policy of refusing medical treatments to hundreds of patients from the Gaza Strip every year, out of concern they would settle in the West Bank. The petitioners challenged the Israeli requirement to have relatives – former residents of Gaza now residing in the West Bank or Israel without permit – return to Gaza as a condition for issuing a travel permit for patients. The petition is informed by dozens of cases that have reached the two NGOs over the past two years of patients whose exit had been denied for that reason.
Following the petition, the State Attorney’s Office argued prior to and during the court hearing that the criterion for denying exit due to “concern with illegal residence in the West Bank” and the requirement “to have relatives staying in the West Bank or in Israel return” are not applied as a basis for refusing requests by Gazans to exit for the purpose of medical treatment. The judges have accepted the state’s position, but left the human rights organizations the option of petitioning once again, should a gap be found between the state’s declarations and the reality on the ground. Under these circumstances, the judges rejected the petition arguing it has run its course.
Al-Mezan and Physicians for Human Rights were pleased with the verdict. According to the NGOs, “Although the court did not legitimize Israel’s policy, the very fact that the state admits that the presence of patients’ relatives in the West Bank is part of the array of considerations affecting the decision whether to allow them to travel there – despite the fact that the West Bank is not sovereign Israeli territory – attests to a heavy-handed policy that violates the Palestinians’ human rights. In the past, gaps would often be found between Israel’s statements and its actual policies. Hence, our experience tells us that we must take with a grain of salt Israel’s statement that the family criterion is no longer applied in the process of reviewing patients’ requests for medical travel permits”.