ISRAEL-OPT: Gaza patients asked to spy to get treatment – rights group
JERUSALEM, 6 August 2008 (IRIN) – An Israeli rights group said on 4 August it had collected 32 affidavits over the past 12 months from Palestinian patients who said they were prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip for medical treatment due to their refusal to cooperate with the state’s internal security service.
A new report by the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), entitled “Holding Health to Ransom,” which includes 11 testimonies of Gazan patients who underwent interrogation at the Erez Crossing between Gaza and Israel, blamed the Israel Security Agency for trying to take advantage of “the most helpless members of society”.
“The exploitation of ill people who are helpless in the face of the demand to inform and report on their relatives, acquaintances and others, constitutes intolerable intimidation and a moral problem of serious magnitude,” PHR said in the 80-page report.
Some patients use Erez to go to Israeli hospitals, while others only transit through to reach the West Bank or Jordan.
Patients were routinely asked all sorts of questions about their political and social beliefs or activities, although at times the information asked was about relatives or regarding issues to which the people did not know the answer.
According to one affidavit, a patient was told by an interrogator that to reach a hospital he would have to give information on people. He said he was also offered money in return for information on Hamas activists.
Another man said he was told: “You will not be able to receive treatment in Israel if you don’t give us additional information.”
Several patients were arrested and placed in detention, PHR said, after being summoned to Erez on the pretext of being allowed in for treatment.
The group, backed up by the sworn statements, said some people were giving up on medical treatment in order to avoid interrogations.
Gazans need treatment outside the Gaza Strip due to local deficiencies, particularly in some specialist fields and because of a lack of equipment, such as machines and devices for radiology, which Israel refuses to let into the enclave for security reasons.
Miri Weingarten from PHR said in the past labourers had been the primary target of such interrogations, but as workers no longer entered Israel from Gaza, the security agency had apparently switched to the only group still allowed in.
Bella Kaufman, an oncologist and member of the Israeli group, told reporters that “the cancer survival rate in Gaza was very low” due to the quality of treatment available in the enclave.
She did say, however, that in her ward at a Tel Aviv hospital many Palestinian patients received treatment.
Israeli officials said security checks were conducted, but egress and medical treatment were not made contingent on a patients’ willingness to collaborate with the authorities. The tight security was needed, they said, due to some previous incidents in which Palestinian militants tried to obtain permits to Israel to carry out attacks on soldiers and civilians.