Israel is accused of “blackmailing” patients from Gaza Strip who seek medical care

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 24 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5012
  1. Erika Tamara Traubmann
  1. 1Tel Aviv

Human rights organisations have accused the Israeli authorities of detaining Palestinian patients from the Gaza Strip, or their escorts, to try to obtain intelligence information in return for an exit permit to enable them to receive medical treatment.

An investigation by the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza and Physicians for Human Rights—Israel says that the latest reported case was that of Rawhy Fouad Qarqaz, 43, who needed treatment on a meniscus of the knee at a hospital in East Jerusalem. Qarqaz was summoned for an interview with the Israel Security Agency (Shabak) on 15 July and was arrested on the spot. He is currently detained in prison in Ashkelon, a southern Israeli city near the border with the Gaza Strip, and has been prevented from seeing his lawyer. Israeli authorities have not responded to a request by Physicians for Human Rights to allow Qarqaz to be examined by an independent doctor.

The Al Mezan Centre and Physicians for Human Rights have warned against the abuse of patients for the purpose of recruiting collaborators and collecting intelligence. Two similar cases have been reported since the beginning of July. The centre said that 12 patients and their escorts were detained at the crossings between May 2009 and April 2011. During that period 533 patients were asked to appear at the crossings for interviews.

The centre and Physicians for Human Rights said that these actions are a continuation of “Israel’s policy of extortion of Palestinian patients and exploitation of their medical suffering, in an abuse which makes clear the extent to which Israel exempts itself from its legal commitments under the rules of international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

The siege and isolation that Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip in 2007 has accelerated the deterioration of the healthcare system and patients’ need to be treated in Israel or the West Bank.

Kifah Abdul Halim, director of the Occupied Palestinian Territory department at Physicians for Human Rights, said that since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza “all those who exit Gaza may be exposed to these methods, but especially patients who suffer from medical distress and can therefore be blackmailed more easily.”

A senior Israeli official reported that in the three cases from July the Gazans were detained because of suspicions of their being involved in terrorist activity. He added, “There is no Israeli policy of blackmailing patients and exploiting their suffering. The detainment of Gaza residents who are suspected of terrorist activity is carried out according to the law and under close inspection of the country’s legal authorities.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5012

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