Physicians for Human Rights petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday demanding that the military government make it easier for gravely sick or injured Palestinians to reach east Jerusalem hospitals, which are among the very best in the Palestinian sector. The demands made by the petitioners, represented by Yohana Lehrman, include the following:
Allow Palestinian ambulances carrying patients in severe condition to go through security barrier checkpoints and east Jerusalem to the hospitals.
Cancel the requirement that Palestinian patients in severe condition be transferred to an Israeli ambulance at a checkpoint for transfer to east Jerusalem hospitals.
Instruct the Defense Ministry to clearly explain the regulations pertaining to transfer of Palestinian patients to all relevant Palestinian organizations.
Observe the regulations regarding the transportation of Palestinians in severe condition as they were drafted 10 years ago, following an earlier petition on the issue.
Correct the regulations so that checkpoint commanders will be obliged to consult authorized medical personnel to determine the dangerousness of the condition of the Palestinian being transferred.
According to Lehrman, the security barrier has made it much more difficult to get Palestinian patients to east Jerusalem in time to save their lives because of the longer distances that ambulances have to travel and the fact that so much more traffic is funneled through the checkpoints. Furthermore, after the original regulation was drafted in the late 1990s, the army later added new restrictions, making it much harder to get the patients to hospital in time to save them.
One key addition was the requirement that the Palestinian ambulance not enter Israeli territory (i.e. east Jerusalem,) and that the patient be transferred at the checkpoint to an Israeli ambulance according to the "back-to-back" procedure. The transfer takes time and, depending on the condition of the patient, the movement alone may further endanger his life.
According to another addition to the original regulation, Palestinian officials must notify the health coordinator for the West Bank and east Jerusalem that a Palestinian ambulance is heading for the checkpoint. The coordinator, Dalia Bassa, is the only person empowered to grant or deny such permission. However, according to Lehrman, it is not always easy to find Bassa and to ask her permission to transfer the patient to east Jerusalem.
Lehrman added on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights that as part of the deal whereby Magen David Adom was recognized by the Red Cross, arrangements for better coordination were drawn up to make it easier to transport Palestinians patients to east Jerusalem hospitals.
However, after a year of operations according to the new agreement, PHR came to the conclusion that despite the improvements in coordination, many Palestinian patients in severe condition are still turned back at the checkpoint or are forced to wait for minutes, or even hours.