Marking the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the World Health Organisation has issued a report on health access, highlighting "how the Israeli permit system and physical barriers obstruct health access for Palestinian patients, ambulances and health workers."
The study "Right to health: crossing barriers to access health in the occupied Palestinian territory, 2014–2015", is based on data provided by Palestinian Authority ministries and non-profit health providers, as well as patient interviews and field studies.
Dr Gerald Rockenschaub, head of the WHO's office in the West Bank and Gaza, said: "Access is a fundamental element of the right to health. Every mother and child has the right to be together during a child's cancer treatment."
"Yet the data indicate substantial restrictions for thousands of patients and their companions who are trying to travel to their places of referral," he added.
Approvals over time
- 20121: 92.5%
- 2013: 88.7%
- 2014: 82.4%
- 2015: 77.5%
- 2016: 44%
The WHO report also includes information "on the impact of attacks on health facilities, patients and health personnel, and the health access situation in 'Area C' in the West Bank, where Israel retains full security and civil authority."
Meanwhile, "denials and delays in responding to health permit applications noticeably increased for Gaza patients who have faced tightened security procedures since 2012 and particularly over the past two years," the organisation said.
The number of patients seeking access permits through Erez checkpoint has more than doubled to 21,899 in 2015, while the permit approval rates have steadily dropped: from 92.5 per cent in 2012 to 88.7 per cent in 2013, 82.4 per cent in 2014 and 77.5 per cent in 2015. (Since the writing of the report, the situation further worsened in Gaza: by October 2016, the approval rate had fallen to 44 per cent.)
Speaking at the report's launch, UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities Robert Piper said: "This is about freedom of movement at its most raw level – the right to access, literally, life-saving services for you, or an elderly parent or perhaps an infant child."
"The very idea that a fence, a wall, a security guard, a bureaucrat could stand between you and such life-saving services should fill us all with a shared sense of dread."