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‘Palestinian infants and children are dying’

Maayan Jaffe Hoffman  |

‘Palestinian infants and children are dying’

Medical professionals say Palestinians are harmed by PA ban on Israeli hospitals • treating them was ‘a very important professional and humanitarian mission – we did it from the depths of our hearts’

August 16, 2019
“There are no new Palestinian patients,” said Dr. Raz Somech, the director of general pediatrics at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. “Many of them are being sent to Jordan or Egypt, and many more don’t even make it to those places.

“I continually receive notifications of children who have died in the Palestinian Authority, children that we regularly [could have] saved at Sheba,” he continued. “Even those who began their treatments here are finding it almost impossible to return. Those who do make it back have already suffered severe health setbacks. It’s a tragedy that is happening now, and no solution appears to be in sight.”
Since April, according to Somech, the PA has stopped sending patients to Israel, “because of political issues” and, therefore, “infants and children are dying. They are staying in their villages or cities, and they are not getting the treatment they are supposed to get.”

The Palestinian Authority in fact announced that as of March 26, 2019, it would stop providing its citizens with medical treatment in Israel. This is its reaction to the Israeli decision to withhold $138 million in tax money from the PA, which is the implementation of the Jewish state’s “Pay-for-Slay” law that instructs it to deduct and freeze the amount of money the PA pays in salaries to imprisoned terrorists and families of “martyrs” from the tax money Israel collects for the authority.

The law was passed in July 2018 and was approved for implementation by Israel’s security cabinet this year.

PA MINISTER of Health spokesman Osama al-Najjar said that the decision to stop sending Palestinians for medical treatment in Israel was made “in response to the deduction of sums [Israel transfers] from the taxes that [Israel] collects each month for the Palestinian coffers.” Najjar told the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida in an April interview that, “the decision is political par excellence, and comes in response to Israel deducting sums from the money that it collects for us.”

According to Najjar, in an interview translated by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), the cost of referrals to Israeli hospitals is $100 million a year. He said that the ministry would be committed to finding alternatives for the sick in state and private hospitals, and claimed that the Palestinian people’s health services would not be affected. However, according to both letters that Somech is receiving and several reports in alternative Palestinian media sources, that health care is not being provided.
“I keep getting phone calls from patients and their families begging to come here and continue treatment, or from new patients asking for help,” the doctor said.

“These children live one hour from us,” he continued. “We are their hope that they can live a better quality of life. No one is talking about it and, unfortunately, I have many cases where the patient did not come and died. Someone has to do something.”

Sheba has treated 150,000 West Bank and Gazan Palestinians since the Six Day War, a spokesperson for the hospital told The Jerusalem Post.

Last year, more than 20,000 permits were granted to Palestinians living in the West Bank to enter Israel and receive treatment in the Jewish state, according to numbers released to the Post by the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT). This number in 2018 was nearly 3,000 more than the year before.

The last comprehensive study regarding the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli hospitals was released by the Knesset in 2017. That report, which covered a five-year period ending in 2015, showed that during those years, 42,314 Palestinians received medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. Of those treated, 15,831 were hospitalized and treated for the full spectrum of medical needs. Half of those hospitalized were children, most of whom received oncological or hemo-oncological treatment.

An Israeli government source said he could not corroborate that there had been a reduced number of Palestinian patients who entered Israel since April of this year.

SINCE 1995, medical coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been ongoing, and continued to increase each year, despite ebbs and flows on the security and diplomatic fronts. As one COGAT representative who asked to remain anonymous explained in a previous interview, “treatment must go on,” even in times of high tension.

Somech said that Sheba, like many other Israeli hospitals, has for decades been treating children from the West Bank and Gaza Strip – who have had some of the most complicated medical cases, including childhood cancer, as well as genetic and horrific auto-immune diseases.

“We had a very solid relationship between us and the Palestinians for all these years,” he said. “We saw it as a very important professional and humanitarian mission – something we were very proud of. We did it from the depths of our hearts.

“We gave patients from Gaza and the West Bank the same level of treatment we give our children, and they used to stay here for many days – even weeks – while we performed different modalities,” he continued.

Somech said it was also a “very important way of communicating” with the Palestinians, “a way of living together” and, most importantly, “it prevented the suffering of infants and children.”

He said that the Palestinians often paid lower rates for services than even those paid by Israeli citizens.

“We did not see it as just a way to get money,” he said, “but as a humanitarian mission: that it was very important that we would be able to live with our neighbors.”

A Palestinian journalist, Fathi Sabbah, whose daughter Rima suffers from a form of blood cancer, took to social media recently, claiming that his daughter was denied treatment in Israel by the PA.

SIMILARLY, PMW translated a plea by the father of 7-year-old Majed Muhammad Majed Ah-Sha’er, who was forced to cease cancer treatment at Israel’s Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center after the PA decided to stop paying for the care.

According to the boy’s father, he was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2015, and was sent for treatment in Israel.

“He has been transferred to hospitals in the occupied interior since the outbreak of the disease,” the father told an independent Palestinian news agency. Now, he explained that the most recent request for approval of his son’s next trip was submitted “to the relevant bodies in Ramallah, but his referral to Ichilov Hospital was not approved and the doctors have said that he is expected to be referred to a different hospital in the occupied West Bank.”

PMW has not published an update regarding this patient.

However, the watchdog group says that comprehensive statistics provided to them by Israel’s Finance Ministry, in response to a freedom of information request, prove that the PA was paying much less for its medical care than Najjar claims.

From 2010 to 2018, the years covered by the statistics, the cost of treating Palestinians in Israeli hospitals never reached $100 million. In the nine years covered by the analysis, the PA expenditure on treatment for Palestinians in Israeli hospitals averaged $62 million per year, with the highest expenditure ($83 million) registered in 2014, the year of the last Gaza war.

“Seen in their entirety, the decisions of the PA, stating the implementation of Israel’s ‘Pay-for-Slay’ law as the major reason for the changes in policy, clearly demonstrate the PA’s priorities: The continued payment of the salaries to the Palestinian terrorist prisoners and released prisoners is more important than providing sick Palestinians with the opportunity to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals,” PMW wrote.

The Palestinian Authority has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

“I think that there is nothing more important than saving the life of one child,” Somech concluded. “If this article will result in even one more infant being able to come here and get treatment, this will be my reward.

“These are young children who are dying,” he continued. “They desire treatment, and the treatment is in our hands – and we are happy to give it to them. They must come.”

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