'Shin Bet decides who'll die in Gaza'

NGO says security agency denying entry to sick Palestinians who refuse to collaborate with Israel.

Karni crossing 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Karni crossing 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) is the arbiter of life and death for gravely ill Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, the NGO Physicians for Human Rights charged in an 83-page report released early Monday morning. The report includes dozens of pages of testimony by 11 Gazan citizens whom the Shin Bet has allegedly questioned and tried to pressure into providing intelligence information in return for permission to cross into Israel on their way to medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip. According to the report, entitled Holding Health to Ransom, PHR charged that Shin Bet interrogators question Palestinians who have applied (and often already received) exit permits to enter Israel on their way to urgent medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank or Jordan. According to the report, the interrogators demand that the patients provide intelligence information in return for permission to leave. "The conduct and policy of the Shin Bet have turned patients' vulnerability into a primary means for obtaining security information," the authors of the report charged. "Long waiting times, questioning of the patient about himself and his acquaintances and appropriation of cellphones to extract phone numbers of family members and acquaintances are all part of the harsh atmosphere in which the patient is aware that his refusal to respond may bar him from exiting Gaza for much-needed treatment. "Once the Shin Bet has established control over a patient, permitting medical treatment is explicitly or implicitly made contingent upon collaboration." In the past, PHR raised these charges in a petition filed in the High Court of Justice which included several affidavits by Palestinians from Gaza who complained about ISA pressure and coercion. The court replied in its ruling that it had "taken note of the security body's statement that no use is made of a person's illness to obtain information in the realm of security." One of the testimonies in the report involved a Gaza resident about 38 years old named Aleph, who suffered from Hodgkin's lymphoma and needed to undergo a PET/CT scan. The appointment, set for Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, had to be punctual because the procedure required isotopes which would die out within minutes of the appointed time. According to the description of Aleph's experience, "the patient arrived at Erez Crossing early in the morning and was made to wait there for hours. When he finally went in for questioning, his interrogators demanded that he collaborate and threatened that unless he responded to their demand, they would prevent his entry into Israel. "Then," continued Aleph, "he said, you have cancer and it will soon spread to your brain. As long as you don't help us [you can] wait for Rafah Crossing [to open]." According to the report, Aleph was forced to wait 10 hours at Erez. By the time the permit was authorized, the isotopes had died out and there was no point in his going to the hospital. In response to the PHR report, the Shin Bet released a statement in which it categorically denied that it issued entry permits for medical care to Palestinians who provided intelligence information. "The Shin Bet does not make receipt of an entry permit into Israel for humanitarian reasons contingent on an applicant's willingness to submit any information, except for reliable information on his medical condition," the statement read. The evaluation process, the Shin Bet said, was aimed at eliminating a potential threat or danger posed by the applicant. "The Shin Bet determines its position on each case by making the proper balance between risk assessment and medical necessity," the statement read. The agency cited two cases when Palestinians from Gaza tried using entry permits granted to them for medical purposes to perpetrate suicide bombing attacks. One case was in May 2007 when two women who had received permits to enter Israel on false medical grounds were caught at Erez on their way to carry out a double suicide attack in Tel Aviv and Netanya. The second case was in June 2005 when a female suicide bomber was caught at Erez with an explosives belt strapped to her body. She had been granted a permit to enter Israel for medical treatments.