Global Health Justice

October 20, 2023

Israel weaponizes healthcare in Gaza

Israel crushed Gaza’s medical system and prevents thousands of Palestinians from leaving for treatment.

The Fourth Geneva Convention holds that an occupying power must ensure the food and medical supplies of the population and must allow medical workers to carry out their duties (Articles 55 and 56).

But “Israel’s closure and blockade have turned the Gaza Strip into an unlivable place”, says Issam Younis, director of the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. “We must address the root causes of this ongoing crisis, which lie in Israel’s systemic discrimination against Palestinians, its perpetual occupation of Palestine and its chronic culture of impunity.”

B’tselm, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, reports that Israel’s blockade and the 15+ years of bombing campaigns on the Gaza Strip have debilitated Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure. From 2019 to 2021, only 55% of essential medicines were available in the Central Drugs Store of the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip. Further complicating healthcare are the direct attacks on facilities. WHO has documented 750 health attacks recorded in the Gaza Strip and West Bank from 2019 to 2022, resulting in the death of one health-care worker and injuries to 568, with 315 ambulances and 160 health facilities affected.

Patients who need medical care unavailable in Gaza are forced to obtain exit permits in an exhausting bureaucratic process, extending also to the persons accompanying them. Many of the requests go unanswered, and patients must repeatedly apply to get the permit they desperately need to reach hospitals in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Israel. Ghada Majadle, director of the Occupied Territories department at Physicians for Human Rights in Tel Aviv, said Israel is complicit in a “serious and ongoing crime that is harming patients, especially minors.”

Israel rejected thousands of applications in 2022, denying more than 20,000 requests. WHO calls on Israel to “end the arbitrary delay and denial of permits for Palestinian patients in need of essential care and insure unheeded access for patients and their companions throughout the occupied territory.” That UN agency recorded 839 deaths of patients while they were awaiting permit responses from Israel between 2008 and 2021.

Israel’s policy choices have created a reality in which the healthcare system in Gaza cannot function properly, meet the needs of local residents and offer proper care – including life-saving treatments. Although the needed care is available mere miles away, the Israeli authorities hinder patients’ access to it by means of the tortuous, arbitrary bureaucracy that often seals their fate.

To meet its obligation under the Geneva Convention, Israel must remove its terrible obstacles to healthcare, aid Gazans to rebuild their medical infrastructures, end the state system of apartheid, and finally end the brutal occupation of Palestine.

Explore the articles below to understand the obstacles faced by patients in Gaza when trying to access essential medical care:

  1. Medical apartheid in Palestine.
  2. Israel’s medical permit denial for Gaza’s children doubles in past year, warns report

  3. In 2022, too, Israel prevented thousands of Palestinians in need of medical care from leaving Gaza for treatment.

  4. Palestinians continue to face barriers to health.

  5. Israel’s siege of Gaza has caused health, humanitarian catastrophe, says report.