Alarming spike in rejections of exit permit applications by Gazans for alleged 'family relations to Hamas operatives'

In 2017, Israel denied 21 exit permit applications by Gaza residents for alleged family ties to Hamas; during the first 3 months of 2018, number soared, exceeding 800, including cancer patients.

Following a record low in exit permit approvals for Gaza patients in 2017, Israel’s policy with regard to exit permits for Gaza residents has been further tightened. Figures provided by the Israeli Ministry of Defense in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Gisha indicate that in the first quarter of 2018 alone, 833 exit permit applications by residents of Gaza were denied by Israel on the grounds that the applicants’ “first-degree relative is a Hamas operative.” For comparison, the Israeli authorities refused 21 applications on these grounds throughout 2017. Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza report that starting June 2018, the Israeli authorities rejected applications by at least 13 patients in need of medical treatment unavailable in Gaza, including cancer patients.


Adalah, Al Mezan, Gisha, and Physicians for Human Rights Israel submitted a petition (Hebrew) to Israel’s High Court on Sunday, 29 July 2018m on behalf of seven medical patients who were openly denied access to treatment because of a claim that their family members are “Hamas operatives.” 


The marked escalation in Israel’s access policy vis-à-vis Gaza residents appears to be a result of a decision made by Israel’s Security Cabinet on January 1, 2017, and implemented extensively since the beginning of 2018, which orders “several operative measures to serve as leverage over Hamas with respect to returning captured and missing persons.” One of the measures approved by the cabinet in this context was “canceling exit from Gaza for medical treatment to relatives of Hamas members.” Figures received in 2018 indicate that the cabinet decision has entered into effect and been applied rigorously since the beginning of the year.


One of the cancer patients affected is Nivin Haboub (40) who has metastatic breast cancer that has spread to her bones. She was referred to radioiodine therapy at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. Haboub entered Israel in November 2015 to receive similar treatment, which means that she passed the security check applied by the Israeli security authorities, but in the past year all of her applications for an exit permit from Gaza have been rejected by Israel’s Civil Liaison Administration (CLA) at Erez Crossing on the grounds that she is related to a Hamas member (find the CLA’s response enclosed). Haboub supposes that her alleged relative with ties to Hamas might be a 65-year-old man who was formerly imprisoned in Israel on security charges.


Importantly, some of the cancer patients who have been denied exit permits are not aware of any family relation to a Hamas member. One example is Amal Abu Jama (33) from Khan Younis, who was diagnosed with a benign meningioma brain tumor and referred for surgery at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. Her permit application was refused due to a supposed Hamas-affiliated relative, but Abu Jama says she does not know of any family members either affiliated with or active in Hamas. Faida Ebid (40) of Deir al-Balah, who has a malignant breast tumor, is another example. She too has been referred for radioiodine therapy at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. On June 11, 2018, her application for an exit permit was denied by the CLA on account that she is related to a Hamas member. Ebid denies having any familial relationship to Hamas members, and notes that three of her relatives have traveled to Israel for medical treatment over the past year, meaning they had passed the security check.


Statement by Adalah, Al Mezan, Gisha and PHRI: “Once again it comes to light that Israel is using patients in need of medical treatment, including cancer patients, as pawns for political gain. When reviewing permit applications submitted by patients from Gaza, Israel’s chief consideration should be their medical needs, rather exploiting their hardships as leverage for mounting pressure on the de-facto authorities in Gaza. Denying patients access to medical treatment on the grounds that they have family relations to Hamas members is a breach of international law, and completely immoral. Israel must immediately put an end to this unacceptable practice, which increases the suffering and despair of Gaza residents, and allow patients access to life-saving treatment that is unavailable in the Strip. The solution to the crisis in Gaza cannot be found in further collective punishment and abuse of the civilian population, but rather in opening the crossings and enabling Gaza’s recovery.”


Case citation: HCJ 5693/18, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights v. Prime Minister of Israel et al