The Light Unto the Nations Pulls the Plug

October 13, 2006

In News

By Amos Harel

The Shin Bet security service is systematically preventing Palestinians who need medical treatment unavailable in the territories from entering Israel, a new report by the nonprofit organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) charges.

According to the organization, in many cases, patients have been denied urgent, life-saving treatment.

The report says that the Shin Bet automatically refuses entry permits, and reconsiders its decisions only if legal action is begun.

In response, the Shin Bet said that it has to balance security considerations against human rights, and noted that terrorist groups have tried to take advantage of Palestinian patients with entry permits in order to carry out attacks inside Israel.

The report, a copy of which was given to Haaretz, claims that the Shin Bet has veto power over all requests by Palestinian patients seeking to enter Israel for medical purposes or to travel from the territories abroad. Many of the requests are turned down on the grounds that the individual is “forbidden entry.” That is a classification for Palestinians whom the Shin Bet considers potential threats to national security. However, it is rare for someone to be tagged as “forbidden entry” because of specific information about that individual. In most cases, the label is based on general profiles of potential terrorists.

The human rights group carried out an analysis of refused entry requests and concluded that the Shin Bet applies very general criteria in its decisions.

According to the analysis, those between the ages of 16 and 35, and sometimes 18 and 40, are considered “dangerous.” Single men and women, or those who are married but childless, are usually turned down. Anyone with a record of security offenses, even minor ones (i.e. former prisoners), or with possible motives for revenge (a family member hurt by the Israel Defense Forces), is also turned down, as are students, because universities are described as “hotbeds of terrorism,” and AIDS patients (the stigma that the disease carries in Palestinian society opens the patient to blackmail: attack in order to cleanse the family name).

The organization decribes the use of these profiles as collective punishment, and emphasizes that denying medical treatment to Palestinian patients violates their human rights. For some patients, no medical treatment is tantamount to a death sentence.

Even though responsibility for medical services in the territories were transferred to the Palestinian Authority under the Gaza and Jericho agreement of 1994, in practice, the PA cannot meet its population’s medical needs, and therefore sends many patients to Israel and Arab countries for treatment.

According to PHR, international law and agreements to which Israel is party require it to provide for the medical needs of the population in the territories. Israel refuses to acknowledge any such legal obligation, but responds to some requests out of “humanitarian concerns.” In those cases, Israel charges the Palestinians for the medical treatment.

The report’s authors say that the Shin Bet refuses to invest the funds and manpower necessary for more detailed evaluations of Palestinian requests to enter Israel for medical purposes, and as a result, most are automatically turned down. The applicant, who receives a response to his request through the Civil Administration, is never told why the request was turned down, nor is there an easy method of appealing the decision. Many applicants are not even aware that there is a possibility of appealing.

Although hundreds of Palestinian applicants are turned down, the vast majority of those who appeal with the help of PHR are allowed entry into Israel. According to the organization, out of 138 requests it handled last year on behalf of patients who were denied entry permits, 116, or 84 percent, were ultimately approved.

However, whenever the group turns to the High Court of Justice, the state asks the court to treat the case as an exception and avoid making a precedent-setting ruling. And in cases where the state insists on its refusal to allow the petitioner to enter Israel, the court usually upholds this position, on the basis of intelligence that the petitioner is not allowed to see.

The report’s authors recommend that the entire method of granting permits be reformed. According to PHR, “the Shin Bet enjoys secure anonymity that gives it infinite control, which even the High Court has trouble limiting. Denying patients care constitutes torture.” The group therefore suggests doing away with the Shin Bet’s veto power over requests for entry permits, arguing that the decision in disputed cases should be placed in the hands of an authorized medical professional.

The report also accuses the Shin Bet of trying to exploit Palestinian patients’ difficult situations in order to recruit family members as informers, by conditioning permits for medical treatment on a promise to supply information.

The Shin Bet responded that its sole goal is to limit terrorism, and that is the sole criterion for approving or refusing Palestinian requests for entry into Israel. It also maintained that its policies undergo legal scrutiny.