Israel’s restrictions affect Palestinian access to health care, World Bank says

The National  /  September 18, 2023

Curbs on travel without permits make it hard for Palestinians to receive life-saving treatment in time, particularly those in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli controls on the movement of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank are preventing them from receiving life-saving treatment in time, a World Bank report released on Monday said.

In the document titled Racing Against Time, the World Bank referred to Israel’s restrictions on movement and trade in the occupied West Bank, the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip and the divide between the two territories as factors jeopardizing the health of Palestinians, as well as the Palestinian economy.

“The fiscal constraints weigh heavily on the Palestinian health system and particularly on its ability to cope with the mounting burden of non-communicable diseases,” Stefan Emblad, the World Bank’s director for the West Bank and Gaza, said in a statement released with the report.

The restrictions, including “a lengthy, bureaucratic regime of permits”, often makes it hard to provide timely life-saving health care to Palestinians, he said.

Access to medical referrals for treatment of cancer, heart disease and maternal and childbirth conditions are affected significantly due to physical and administrative constraints, the statement said.

“The situation is particularly critical in Gaza, which suffers from a more limited health system capacity and where patients struggle to get needed medical exit permit applications on a timely basis,” it said.

“Research figures show that the near-blockade of Gaza has had an impact on mortality, as some patients do not outlive the length of the permit process.”- World Bank report

“Research figures show that the near-blockade of Gaza has had an impact on mortality, as some patients do not outlive the length of the permit process.”

Thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip cross annually into Israel for medical treatment unavailable in the impoverished Palestinian territories.

Israel has occupied the West Bank – now home to about three million Palestinians – since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when it also seized the Gaza Strip, the densely populated coastal enclave from which it has since withdrawn.

Last year, Israel issued entry permits for more than 110,000 medical visits for West Bank residents, according to COGAT, the Israeli Defence Ministry body that oversees civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories.

More than 17,000 such permits were issued during the same period to Palestinians from Gaza, where 2.3 million people live.

A blockade imposed by Israel in 2007, after Hamas rose to power in Gaza, has also affected the delivery of medical supplies to the enclave.

The World Bank has urged Israel and Palestinian authorities to better manage such medical cases and ease the permit process in a bid to provide timely healthcare assistance to patients and their companions.

Agencies contributed to this report