Israel’s High Court overturned on Sunday evening the security cabinet’s previous decision to prevent five Palestinian women, mostly cancer patients, from Gaza from receiving life-saving treatment in occupied East Jerusalem on the basis that the women had relatives that were active in the Hamas movement.
According to a joint statement from rights groups Gisha, Al Mezan, Adalah, and Physicians for Human Rights Israel — who filed the petition earlier this month on behalf of the women — the court ruled that “the decision to deny Gaza patients access to medical treatment as means of leverage over Hamas was ineffective and illegal.”
In its decision, the court also confirmed that the patients themselves “did not pose any threat to Israel’s security,” the statement said, adding that the women’s lawyers argued that denying them passage through Israel to reach the hospitals in East Jerusalem “was illegal and effectively constituted a punitive death sentence for reasons entirely out of their control.”
The women were previously banned by the state from entering Israel from Gaza as part of an attempt to pressure Hamas into returning the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 war, and two Israeli citizens who are believed to be held by the group.
The five are just some of hundreds of Palestinians who have been denied entry by Israel over the past year, following the 2017 decision to deny entry into Israel to patients who are Hamas members or their relatives.
The decision was made as a direct result of pressure from the family of Hadar Goldin, one of the Israeli soldiers whose body is being held in Gaza.
While the rights groups hailed the decision, they criticized the fact that “it required three Supreme Court justices to raise a black flag over a policy that, from the very start, was clearly cruel and illegal.”
“The court rightly dismissed the Israeli defense minister and cabinet’s outrageous decision to use patients in critical condition as bargaining chips,” the groups continued, calling the policy “immoral” and “in contravention of international human rights norms.”
“The ruling revokes just the latest manifestation of restrictions on patients’ access to treatment and does not deal with Israel’s overall restrictive access policy, which continues to put thousands of patients at risk.”
According to the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, in 2018 alone, Israel has denied 833 exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants had a “first-degree relative” that is a “Hamas operative.”
In comparison, Israeli authorities denied 21 applications on such grounds in all of 2017.
Starting June 2018, Israeli authorities rejected the applications of at least 13 patients, including cancer patients, in need of medical treatment unavailable in Gaza, Al Mezan reported.
Some of the patients who were denied, according to the group, are not even aware of any family members either affiliated with or active in Hamas, the group said, adding that “the solution to the crisis in Gaza cannot be found in further collective punishment and abuse of the civilian population, but rather in opening the crossings and enabling Gaza’s recovery.”
Sunday’s decision comes on the heels of a worsening medical crisis in Gaza, which earlier this month saw over 8,000 cancer patients put at risk due to a shortage of chemotherapy drugs.
Officials in Gaza have cited the worsening Israeli siege on the territory as a reason for the shortages.
One hospital, the al-Rantisi Hospital, which according to the Gaza Ministry of Health treats 6,560 cancer patients — including 460 children — announced that it was no longer able to provide patients with chemotherapy sessions.
Gaza is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, over 70% of which are refugees.
A more than decade-long Israeli air, land, and sea blockade has crippled Gaza’s economy, which boasts one of the highest unemployment rates in the world at 44 percent, leaving an estimated 80 percent of the territory’s population dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Gaza has often been compared to an “open air prison,” and in 2015, the UN warned that the it could become “unlivable” by 2020 if nothing was done to improve the situation.