Erez is one of a few crossing points between the Gaza Strip and Israel. It is located in Gaza's northern most point. It is also called the Beit Hanoun crossing. Palestinian workers from Gaza used to pass through Erez when going to work inside Israel, but it has been over one year since almost all workers from Gaza have been able to enter Israel for jobs. For the most part, now only journalists, UN workers and other internationals pass through it. It is also used for urgent humanitarian medical cases seeking treatment inside Israel. The importance of these nearby medical services cannot be minimized. With the irregular operation of the Rafah crossing, this makes the Israeli hospitals and medical centers the closest points available for Palestinians in need of urgent or sometimes life saving medical care. Unfortunately, as the relations between the Palestinians and Israelis have deteriorated of late, sick people have become one of the most seriously affected groups because of this situation. To know more about patients and the obstacles they face at the Erez crossing, Caritas Jerusalem spoke with Dr Mu'awiah Hassanen, Director General of the Emergency Sector of the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza. He reported about the barriers Palestinian patients at Erez face. "Several years ago about 120 Palestinian patients each day were passing through the Beit Hanoun crossing [Erez] into Israel to get medical treatment, but now only ten to fifteen patients pass each day." Dr Hassanen said. "Sadly, this includes many children, who have heart and kidney diseases and cancers, who are prevented from entering Israel. Sixty seven (67) patients with cancer who formerly used to secure medical care inside Israel have not been allowed to pass Erez since January 2004." Since the signing of the Oslo Agreement in 1993 between the PLO and Israel, humanitarian relations between the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities began to take place in a good way, especially medical coordination. This coordination began to decrease at the end of the year 2000 due to the problems that commenced at that time. Today, it is at its lowest level since the coordination began. Beginning in January 2004, Palestinian ambulances were banned from entering Israel. At that time, new complicated procedures to obtain medical care inside Israel were imposed and this has dramatically affected Palestinian patients. These procedures lead to significant delays at the Erez crossing until they are permitted to pass. "These practices are inhumane, immoral, and impious, violating all international and bilateral agreements." said Dr Hassanen. The closure of the Erez crossing is dangerous for sick Palestinian patients, especially the most serious emergency cases. Dr Hassanen explained: "Unfortunately, those who need emergency medical treatment do not have the time to wait for it. Sick people often cannot wait for a long time in ambulances. Sometimes, time is of the essence when a serious medical condition is present. In addition, many patients who are in critical condition should not be transferred from Palestinian ambulances to Israeli ones. In addition, the security procedures, which are onerous and time consuming, negatively affect the health of the patients." "Sadly, Israeli inspection companies waste a lot the time and do not help the patients. Many patients have died waiting at the Erez crossing due to blood loss." Dr Hassanen added: "Many patients, who are sent to Israel for treatment, never make it to their destination and return dead to Gaza." He pointed to one specific case of a sick person who was not permitted to enter Israel for treatment recently: Ehsan Majed Abu Mu'amar, 15 years old, suffering from a serious brain related illness. He was attempting to reach Ichlov Hospital in Tel Aviv. There had been previous coordination with the authorities to allow him to pass the Erez crossing and an Israeli ambulance was waiting for him on the other side. He had permission to enter Israel to obtain medical care and no security concerns were present, but after waiting, he was turned back and not allowed to enter. He also pointed to the recent case of a 6-month-old girl, Dua'a Othman Al Zibde, who was in intensive care in Gaza and she waited at the checkpoint for more than three hours before being refused entry even though she also had previous coordination with the authorities to enter Israel for medical treatment. Hopes for the Future Presently, the level of despair in the Palestinian society is almost unfathomable. Palestinians today see Gaza as a vast prison. The inability of sick people to reach Israeli hospitals has caused many deaths. Nevertheless, hope still exists. Dr. Hassanen expresses his feelings of hope. "A Palestinian unity government is to be formed very soon, hopefully, the Israelis will cooperate with us in order to facilitate everything related to sick patients and all humanitarian cases." Dr Hassanen added: "Coordination must be ongoing in the environmental and health fields; in scientific activities and working cooperatively to fight epidemic diseases in the region." Source: Caritas Jerusalem
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