Today, International Human Rights day, it is important to remember that the right to health is a central, fundamental human right that includes protection for a wide range of additional human rights - from the right to equality, according to which every person is entitled to proper medical treatment without distinction on the basis of ethnicity, sex or socioeconomic status - to other rights that provide the basis for fulfilling everyone’s right to health, including the rights to life, personal safety, education, freedom of movement, transportation and more.
In the current reality, statements about human rights in general and the right to health in particular and reality on the ground are still miles apart. This reality can be fixed, however, if policy and social priorities are changed.
In the Occupied Territories, Israel has near complete control over Palestinians’ ability to develop the health care system. The permit regime, roadblocks and checkpoints significantly hinder access to medical care by patients and access to professional development and training by health care professionals. In addition, certain practices, such as nocturnal raids on homes, house demolitions, and the restrictions imposed by Israel, dictate the socio-economic and health status of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories.
Israel marginalizes asylum seekers simply by persistently refusing to grant them status, even when they are entitled to it as refugees, and even when Israel itself recognizes they cannot be deported. Asylum seekers are also denied health insurance and access to jobs; They are forced to live without protection, exposed to exploitation and to living quarters that are hazardous to their health, and more.
In addition to all this, they are subjected to an economic sanction in the form of the “Deposit Law”, which docks a fifth of their pay every month. This law compromises the ability to enjoy nutritional security, pushes many into hunger and denies them the ability to purchase medication or pay for medical services.
Prisoners in Israel are excluded from the National Health Insurance Law, and forced to contend with less accessible and lower quality medical services with no Ministry of Health, oversight while every application for medical treatment goes through the IPS, an agency that lacks the expertise to handle such situations. Meanwhile, prisoners are a vulnerable demographic characterized by health background factors such as living conditions that are detrimental to health, high rates of sickness, lack of access to physical activity, mental distress and extreme crowding.
Even Israeli citizens and residents, who were expected to benefit from full protection thanks to the revolution brought about by the National Health Insurance Law and the Patients Rights Law experience difficulties accessing medical services and an increase in private spending on health, as they are faced with an underfunded health care system that has been in a state of crisis for years. All of this is compounded by gaps in health outcomes stemming in part from living conditions and socio-economic status that are rooted in systemic discrimination against certain segments of the population in Israel.
Without ending the occupation and finding real solutions for building an independent Palestinian health care system, without insurance solutions for asylum seekers and stateless individuals living in Israel, without relieving the IPS from health care responsibilities and applying the National Health Insurance Law to prisoners and soldiers, without increasing the country’s health care budget and without understanding that welfare, the environment, education and transportation are directly linked to the right to health - we won’t be able to truly fulfill the declaration we are still so proud of 71 years after it was written. Because there is no human rights without the right to health.
Ran Goldstein, Executive Director
Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI)