Thursday, June 04, 2009

"Gaza Medical Patients Blackmailed by Israel's Occupation Forces" - British Medical Journal

Published 8 May 2009, doi:10.1136/bmj.b1879
Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1879


Gaza patients "forced" to help security services in exchange for Israeli medical treatment

Merav Sarig

1 Jerusalem

A report issued this week by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel indicates that the Shin Bet security services conduct a policy of forcing patients to provide information as a condition of being allowed to leave the Gaza Strip for medical care.

According to the human rights organisation the number of Palestinian patients who are summoned for interrogation as a precondition to receiving an exit permit from Gaza for treatment has risen. Between January 2008 and March 2009 at least 438 patients were interrogated by the Shin Bet.

The report, which was presented this week to the United Nations Committee against Torture, in Geneva, also shows that the Shin Bet has begun interrogating minors in need of medical care, to photograph patients against their will, and to detain patients for undisclosed periods of time. According to testimonies, patients who do not cooperate are returned to Gaza without receiving a permit to exit the territory for medical treatment.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel gathered testimony from 30 patients who underwent interrogation. One patient, known as R, has cancer and is being treated at a hospital in central Israel. R said that she came to the Erez crossing after being informed that an exit permit had been approved for her and her mother. According to her testimony, at 9 am R and her mother were told to wait in the departure hall. At 11 30 am, three Shin Bet agents approached and asked R to come with them for questioning. R was removed from her mother for interrogation. She was asked questions about her father and an uncle, including about their place of employment. Only at 5 pm was she permitted to leave for Israel.

Another patient in the report is W, a Gaza man with kidney stones, who was interrogated in December 2008 after being referred for treatment at St Joseph Hospital in east Jerusalem. He told researchers that he was asked which members of his family belonged to Hamas and which to Islamic Jihad. He told them, "There aren’t any people like that in my family." W was sent back to Gaza.

Hadas Ziv, director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, called for an end to the use of patients for the purpose of gathering intelligence.

"It is incredibly dangerous for any democratic nation when a secret agency known to use unorthodox methods is allowed to operate without proper supervision or criticism," he said.

Shin Bet categorically rejected all claims of "extortion" of patients.

"The position of the security service is determined by concrete circumstances and balances an estimate of the level of threat posed by the individual requesting entrance to Israel for medical treatment against medical need," the agency said in a statement.

"The entry of most of those asking to enter Israel is enabled eventually, despite the complex security circumstances and despite the large number of examples of the use of forged permits, in part for purposes of terror."

Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1879

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