Appreciate this article? +972 depends on your support.

Click here to help us keep going

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Stop blaming sick Palestinians for Israel's healthcare problems

The attempt to blame ill Palestinians for the deficiencies of Israel’s healthcare system distracts from the fact that there is only one sovereign responsible for the state of medical care in the occupied territories.

By Ran Goldstein

Palestinian protesters are seen in a reflection on an ambulance where an injured Palestinian is treated during a protest near the Gaza border at the proximity of Erez crossing, Northern Gaza Strip, October 23, 2015. Tensions rise in recent weeks with violent attacks by both Israelis and Palestinians and clashes around the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and Palestinian towns inside Israel. Since the beginning of October, 57 Palestinians have been killed in shootings and clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, while eight Israelis have been killed in knife and gun attacks. (Activestills.org)

Palestinian protesters are seen in a reflection on an ambulance where an injured Palestinian is treated during a protest near the Gaza border at the proximity of Erez crossing, Northern Gaza Strip, October 23, 2015. (Activestills.org)

A recent Israeli media investigation made headlines over the last few weeks after concluding that Israelis in the country’s periphery are losing out as a result of Israel’s providing medical treatment to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But these conclusions are manipulative.

Let’s begin with what should be self-evident under international humanitarian law: Israel, as the entity that oversees the conditions that impact health in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (such as water, electricity, and nutrition), is obligated to provide medical services in the event that the Palestinian Authority is unable to do so.

The standard and scope of these medical services should, as long as the Israeli government maintains the occupation, be equal to those in Israel. As such, treating Palestinians in Israeli hospitals does not constitute altruism and does not go above and beyond the letter of the law.

Yet most Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank who receive exit permits for medical treatment are not admitted to hospitals in Israel. Rather, the permits largely allow them to be treated in hospitals in East Jerusalem, or in the West Bank if the patients are coming from the Gaza Strip. Some also go to Jordan or other countries.

Between 2013 and 2015 around 260,000 Palestinian permit holders seeking medical treatment entered the West Bank and Jerusalem, according to the Knesset Research and Information Center. Around 61,000 were admitted to Israeli hospitals.

The vast majority of those in the second group were treated in hospitals in Jerusalem and the center of the country, and not in hospitals in the periphery. The reason that Palestinians are admitted to Israeli hospitals in the first place is because the under-developed Palestinian healthcare system is unable to meet their needs. In Gaza, for example, cancer patients cannot generally receive the treatment they require.

The Palestinian Authority covers patients’ costs, and Israel uses its tax on the PA to recover its debts. The price Palestinians pay to Israeli hospitals is around five percent higher than that paid by Israeli health funds for the patients they insure. Between 2011 and 2015, Israeli hospitals took in over a billion shekels from Palestinians.

They seek to exit Gaza, advance, and enrich Gaza with more and more professional and non-professional talent – because it is their right. A Gaza resident at Erez Crossing (Photo: Yonatan Zindel, Flash 90).

They seek to exit Gaza, advance, and enrich Gaza with more and more professional and non-professional talent – because it is their right. A Gaza resident at Erez Crossing (Photo: Yonatan Zindel, Flash 90).

Added to this are funds for medical projects that Israel is not expected to contribute to, which can amount to millions of shekels over the years from donors such as the European Union. The EU, and other donors that help fund treatment for Palestinians, see such medical collaboration as a means of moderating the hostility between the two societies.

Many Palestinians prefer not to receive medical treatment in Israel due to the accompanying bureaucratic and political obstacles. Shin Bet interrogations at the Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza, for example, deter many patients who fear being perceived as collaborating with Israel. And receiving a medical permit at all requires proving that the treatment needed is not available in the Gaza Strip, a complex and cumbersome task.

Long-term, Palestinians’ dependence on the Israeli health system can be reduced by developing an independent Palestinian medical infrastructure. Hospitals in Gaza currently have to function with electricity shortages, lack of equipment, and medical teams who rarely get to attend educational courses and training outside the Strip. Palestinians’ reliance on Israel for anything connected to importing medicines and medical equipment, and other aspects relating to healthcare, is solely within Israel’s purview.

A Palestinian doctor treats conjoined twin boys in a hospital in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 16, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

A Palestinian doctor treats conjoined twin boys in a hospital in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 16, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The attempt to blame sick Palestinians for shortcomings in the Israeli healthcare system distracts from two failings: Israel’s abrogation of its responsibility for the state of medical care in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, and its neglect of public healthcare in Israel. This is an oversight of successive Israeli governments, which haven’t invested in health, encouraged privatization or adequately addressed the shortage in medical practitioners.

The lack of beds and equipment for doctors and nurses in Israel is well-known, with Israelis in the periphery particularly affected. Israel consistently ranks poorly in the OECD’s international healthcare indices, which the government has not addressed. Nor has it made plans to strengthen the healthcare system in the long run.

These problems are at the heart of the real deficiencies in public health in Israel, and they will go nowhere if we continue blaming them on Palestinians.

Ran Goldstein is the Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights This article was first published on NRG.

Newsletter banner

For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. ASF

      Here’s an equally intriguing idea: Palestinians, stop expecting the Israelis you target for extinction to provide you with your electricity, water AND healthcare, eternally, for free, despite the tons of “humanitarian assistance” you’ve been receiving since 1948. Take responsibility for yourselves, for a change.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @ASF: As the occupying power Israel is responsible for providing the basics – food, water, electricity. Everything that goes out or comes in to Gaza is controlled by Israel, and since Gaza is only allowed the bare minimum of trade with the outside world it doesn’t have the money to buy fuel for electricity generation.

        “Palestinians’ reliance on Israel for anything connected to importing medicines and medical equipment, and other aspects relating to healthcare, is solely within Israel’s purview.”

        Reply to Comment
        • ASF

          …Another “Taqiyya” sunrise. While Israel must maintain strict controls on what comes in and out of the Palestinian territories, due to the Palestinians’ incessant and unceasing terrorism, development can and does go on in both Gaza and the West Bank. Qatar has just invested nearly 100 million into a new medical technology park in the territories. I would say that such efforts towards said development is long overdue, given that the Palestinians have been on the global dole since 1948, including their receiving aid and services from UNWRA, a UN agency devoted to them and them only, since 1949. Despite your descriptions of Israel’s tight grip on their finances and “circumstances”, Yassar Arafat managed to steal billions from the Palestinians, proceeds of which his extended family members continue to live off of quite comfortably from a distance. President Abbas has just built himself a multi-million dollar private compound in Ramallah. And senior members of both Hamas and the PA have ever-expanding Swiss Bank Accounts–This despite the Palestinians who languish in less than habitable conditions in refugee camps that were orignally the design of the Arab League–primarily Egypt which also blockades the Palestinian territories for the same reasons that Israel does–because of the security threats that the Palestinians propose to their neighbors on all sides. Palestinians often go unpaid for months from their “civil service” jobs that are compliments of afore-mentioned UNWRA and that is the fault of their governments which refuse to pay them for their labours. Despite the fact that the Palestinian governments refuse to pay any of their overdue utility bills, Israel has offered to help the Palestinians upgrade their crumbling water and sewer systems, the pipes of which break constantly during peak-usage hours, which endangers not only their water supply and quality, but that of neighboring Israel as well. Yet,the Palestinians seem to have all the money in the world to keep building “terror tunnels” and pay stipends to aspiring terrorists. One would think they would want to train their children to become doctors and nurses instead of “heroic martyrs” who stick knives into any Jew they happen to come across. Again, just to sum up my point,the Palestinians might be better off concentrating their efforts on cleaning up their own backyard (literally)–and take responsibility for doing more than just destroying Israel in order to get back what was never “their’s alone”to begin with. There is nothing inherently moral, justified or “holy” about the Palestinian’s own apartheid ambitions, which they seem intent on pursuing to the exclusion of just about everything else–including their own health and welfare.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is a lot of canned, hackneyed propaganda. A hash of recycled cliches. The occupier playing the victim.

            The occupation is terrorism. If you don’t get that you don’t understand anything.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gearoid

            Why is this empty racism allowed on this site?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Once again, what international law (and common sense) say about the prison we know as Gaza:
      https://www.thenation.com/article/five-israeli-talking-points-gaza-debunked/

       Israel argues that it can invoke the right to self-defense under international law as defined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The International Court of Justice, however, rejected this faulty legal interpretation in its 2004 Advisory Opinion. The ICJ explained that an armed attack that would trigger Article 51 must be attributable to a sovereign state, but the armed attacks by Palestinians emerge from within Israel’s jurisdictional control. Israel does have the right to defend itself against rocket attacks, but it must do so in accordance with occupation law and not other laws of war. Occupation law ensures greater protection for the civilian population. The other laws of war balance military advantage and civilian suffering. The statement that “no country would tolerate rocket fire from a neighboring country” is therefore both a diversion and baseless.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Baladi Akka 1948

      The conjoined twins in the photo are girls, not boys, their names are Asil and Hadil. Their father, Anwar Ziadat, is searching for urgent fonds to pay their surgical separation abroad (they share a single heart and circulatory system), most likely in Saudi Arabie.

      Reply to Comment
    4. i_like_ike52

      A good example of Palestinian “Doublethink”. On the one hand, the Palestinians say that all Jews want to do is kill Palestinians and sell their organs, on the other hand, they demand treatment in Israeli hospitals, and this includes top HAMAS people. Wouldn’t you think they would be afraid to enter an Israeli hospital?
      BTW-Is the picture of the cojoined twins shown above in order to blame Israel for that birth defect?

      Reply to Comment
    5. JeffB

      @Maariv

      The standard and scope of these medical services should, as long as the Israeli government maintains the occupation, be equal to those in Israel. As such, treating Palestinians in Israeli hospitals does not constitute altruism and does not go above and beyond the letter of the law.

      Actually if it is an occupation then providing services equal to those in Israel is a violation of the Geneva convention. Occupying powers aren’t supposed to reorient the economy of countries they occupy. The quality service should be maintained from the level it was during the time the formal sovereign: Jordan / Egypt, Britain, Turkey, “Palestine” (if so when), that you think owns the territory. Now of course if Israel is the governing power not the occupying power then it has obligations to provide equal healthcare.

      You gotta pick.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “if it is an occupation then providing services equal to those in Israel is a violation of the Geneva convention… the quality [of] service should be maintained from the level it was during the time [of] the formal sovereign”

        What tripe. Served cold and devious. The quality of medical service should be frozen at the obsolete standards of medical care that existed 50 years ago when the occupier froze all progress by its occupation? THAT is a violation of the Geneva Convention. THAT is inhumane on the face of it, and coldly racist. You really do sound something vaguely like those the Vichy French collaborated with, experimenting with people or dismissing their needs as of inferior concern, JeffB. (We have not forgotten your endorsement of Le Pen in the face of her fresh dismissal of the responsibility of France in colluding with the SS in rounding up the Jews of Paris). You really kind of disgust me.

        Reply to Comment