The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is bleak. In the West Bank, Palestinian children need armed escorts to take them to school to avoid being attacked by settlers while the population of Gaza is slowly being suffocated by the blockade around the tiny strip. Israel claims that the blockade is only targeting Hamas, the Islamic leadership that took control of Gaza in 2006. It is not; the blockade is ruining the lives of every human in Gaza. Indeed, Gazans need special permits to leave the strip for medical procedures. Consider the case of Fidaa Talal Hijji:
DEATH OF FIDAA TALAL HIJJY
Fidaa Talal Hijjy, 19 years old, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 2007, and was treated at Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Her health deteriorated and she was told she needed a bone marrow transplant. This procedure is not available in Gaza. Her doctors referred her to Tel HaShomer Hospital in Israel on 20 August 2009 and she obtained a hospital appointment for 23 September 2009 for a transplant.
The District Liaison Office submitted an application for Fidaa to cross Erez on the date of her appointment but the Israeli Authorities did not respond to her application and she lost her appointment with Tel HaShomer Hospital. She secured a new appointment for 20 October 2009 and a new application was submitted to cross Erez. She had no response from the Israeli Authorities. Her health condition deteriorated further. She was given a new appointment at Shneider Hospital in Israel for 9 November 2009 and submitted an urgent application to cross Erez. No response was received. 1
Fidaa died on 11 November 2009. The Israeli Authorities approved her request on 12 November 2009, three days after her hospital appointment and one day after her death.
Fidaa’s story was taken from the World Health Organization’s ‘Gaza Health Fact Sheet’ (readable and downloadable here). Unfortunately, there are many stories like Fidaa’s as Gazans regularly die while waiting for medical services. Applications to exit the strip are either ignored or denied while medical equipment needed for basic medical procedures are not allowed through the Israeli blockade.
The blockade is killing people and it must be lifted. Indeed, improving the humanitarian situation can help create a larger peace in the region. The UN says that Israel must lift the blockade, as does the World Health Organization, Association of International Development Agencies (representing 84 different NGOs worldwide) and Amnesty International. For more, see the video by Amnesty International’s Francesca Burke concerning the situation in Gaza.
On January 20, 2010, soon after the 1 year anniversary of the end of the Gaza war, the following document was released on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid‘ website. Please read:
UN Humanitarian Coordinator and Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA): “The closure of the Gaza Strip puts at risk the health of people in Gaza and undermines the functioning of the health care system.”
Today, one year after Israel’s military offensive on Gaza, UN Agencies and the Association for International Development Agencies (AIDA), representing over 80 NGOs, are highlighting the impact of the blockade on Gaza on the health of Gaza’s population and on health services – and are calling for an immediate opening of Gaza’s crossings.
Max Gaylard, the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for the oPt, said on Wednesday 20th January 2010 “The continuing closure of the Gaza Strip is undermining the functioning of the health care system and putting at risk the health of 1.4 million people in Gaza. It is causing on-going deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health. It is hampering the provision of medical supplies and the training of health staff and it is preventing patients with serious medical conditions getting timely specialised treatment outside Gaza”
The economy of Gaza is in virtual collapse with rising unemployment and poverty which will have long term adverse effects on the physical and mental health of the population. The environment is also in decline including water quality, sewage and waste disposal and other environmental hazards (including munitions and medical waste) which may lead to long term effects on health.
More than 750,000 children live in Gaza. The humanitarian community is gravely concerned about the future of this generation whose health needs are not being met. The decline in infant mortality, which has occurred steadily over recent decades, has stalled in the last few years.
The lack of building materials as a result of the blockade is affecting essential health facilities: the new surgical wing in Gaza’s main Shifa hospital has remained unfinished since 2006. Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during operation ‘Cast Lead’, have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza. Operation ‘Cast Lead’ damaged 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 43 of its 110 primary health care facilities were either damaged or destroyed.
Supplies of drugs and disposables have generally been allowed into Gaza – though there are often shortages on the ground. However, certain types of medical equipment, such as x-ray equipment and electronic devices are very difficult to bring in. Clinical staff frequently lack the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts or out of date.
Health professionals in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world. Since 2000, very few doctors, nurses or technicians have been able to leave the Strip for training necessary to update their clinical skills or to learn about new medical technology. This is severely undermining their ability to provide quality health care.
The humanitarian community believes the health sector would face serious problems in dealing with another emergency on the scale of last year’s Operation Cast Lead. The Government of Israel has a legal duty to guarantee the right to health for people in Gaza. The humanitarian community calls for the crossings into Gaza to be reopened.
Many specialised treatments, for example, complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer, are not available in Gaza and patients are therefore referred for treatment to hospitals outside Gaza. But many patients have had the applications for exit permits denied or delayed by the Israeli Authorities and have missed their appointments. Some have died while waiting for referral.
Tony Laurance, the Head of Office for WHO West Bank and Gaza, said that “An effective health care system cannot be sustained in isolation from the international community. Open borders are needed to ensure the health of the1.4 million people in Gaza”
Gaza can be helped. The people in the tiny strip do not need to suffer like this. Every major international organization agrees that what Israel is doing to the people of Gaza is unjust and inhumane.