Knesset committee discusses rights and welfare of Gazan children

Does Israel really block 40% of parents of Gazan children from crossing border for medical treatment?

Palestinian security forces and trucks seen at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 1, 2020. (photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
Palestinian security forces and trucks seen at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 1, 2020.
(photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
The Knesset Committee for the Rights of the Child on Tuesday held a debate about why Israel is blocking around 40% of parents of Gazan children from joining them when they cross the border to be treated in Israeli medical establishments.
Committee chairman Yosef Jabareen (Joint List) said, “it is important for the committee to explicitly declare the right of children to receive medical care while being accompanied by one of their parents.”
“We heard about the medical and socio-psychological importance of being accompanied [by a parent] from a professional perspective and to comply with international law obligations,” stated Jabareen.
Jabareen demanded that the government allow more parents of Gazan children to accompany them for medical treatment as well as to permit medical treatment in Israel for anything that was not available in Gaza, even if it is not a life-saving treatment.
He said that the current situation violates Israel’s international law obligations.
Generally, Israel is more liberal in granting Palestinians from the West Bank medical treatment than those from Gaza, and is more ready to grant treatment to Gazans in life-threatening situations.
IDF Civil Administration Maj. Yasmin Tau Yitzhak told the committee that authorities work hard to ensure that parents can accompany Palestinian children coming into Israel for medical care.
She said that 92% of West Bank parents had been given permission to join their kids in such situations.
Tau Yitzhak explained that Gaza was more complex as the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) tended to find more security issues with parents making requests.
Noting that security was the primary reason that a parent’s request for entry might be rejected, she stated that the IDF was still ready for the other parent or another relative to accompany a Palestinian child.
In fact, Tau Yitzhak said that in some instances where a grown-up is not permitted to accompany a Gazan child into Israel, it occurs because an application was filed and approved for one grown-up, but a different grown-up shows up unannounced who did not apply.
In absolute numbers, Tau Yitzhak told the committee that 9,315 Palestinian children from the West Bank and 1,384 from Gaza were accompanied by parents over the last year.
Health Ministry International Affairs director Asher Shalmon said that, "according to the Oslo Accords... the responsibility for medical treatment is on the Palestinian Authority. It decides who can come to Israel and who cannot. We at the Health Ministry never say ‘no’ to Palestinian children in life-threatening situations.”
Yet, he added that during the time period since Israel and the PA have been at loggerheads over customs taxes and other political issues, there has been an 80-90% drop in referrals for medical treatment from the PA.
Shalmon portrayed this as part of the PA’s reduced coordination with Israel in a variety of areas to protest a range of diplomatic disagreements.
Also, he said that since the coronavirus pandemic there have been instances of Palestinians being turned down for medical treatment based on corona issues, but that anytime this happened, Israeli citizens would also have been turned down.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who initiated the hearing, said Israel, “cannot be blind to children and families whose lives can be saved by medical treatment” in Israel, and that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians placed an even greater obligation on Israel to provide aid.
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday Adalah (Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel) called on Israel to release hunger striking Palestinian Maher al-Akhras from administrative detention, saying he is close to dying after 86 days.
The statement said that A Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) volunteer doctor visited Akhras last Friday, noting that “although he is generally lucid, he is also periodically confused, very dizzy, cannot move his legs, stand, or change position in bed.”
“His vision and hearing are rapidly deteriorating and he complains of severe chest pains. According to international medical consensus on hunger strikes, Akhras may die any day,” said the statement.
Israel has said that al-Akhras is a member of Islamic Jihad who poses a danger to the state, though it was unclear if the accusation was related to carrying out actual violence or some kind of recruiting or incitement relating to the group.
The IDF referred the issue to the Shin Bet, which clarified that at least in the past he had been directly involved in terror and had been arrested five previous times. The Shin Bet declined to give more specifics about the current round of detention.
Islamic Jihad has threatened to fire rockets in retaliation if he dies.
The Supreme Court suspended Akhras’ administrative detention so that he could be transferred to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot and slightly liberalize the policy for receiving visitors, but refused to order his release.
The Shin Bet has offered not to extend his administrative detention which would lead to his being released later in November, but he also refused this offer.
Administrative detention is a special status in Israel where a detainee gets to argue for their release in a judicial proceeding, but the standards of the proceeding do not offer the same protections as regular criminal trials.
Due to some evidence against administrative detainees being based on classified intelligence, their defense lawyers often complain that they cannot properly defend their clients since only the court gets to view the full evidentiary file.
Akhras is refusing medical treatment or tests to monitor his vital signs though Israel does have a law in place which could allow forced-feeding.
Adalah called on the international community to pressure Israel to release Akhras to a Palestinian hospital and slammed the process of administrative detention as illegal.
Israel defends the practice as being critical to save lives when there is hard intelligence that a person poses a danger to others’ lives, but the intelligence cannot be produced in a criminal trial lest the source of the intelligence be exposed.
The Shin Bet said in a statement “Maher al-Akhras was arrested on 7/27/20 on intelligence indicating that he was a prominent Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative, involved in activities dangerous to public safety. In the past, Akhras was involved in terrorist activities and was arrested five times following his activities in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization.”