A delegation of four Israeli members of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel), including three doctors and PHR-Israel's Clinic Manager, entered Gaza Wednesday as part of an emergency medical caravan.In addition, $40,000 worth of donated medical supplies were brought by the delegation to assist the beleaguered Palestinian medical sector in the Gaza Strip.
According to PHR-Israel, the objectives of the convoy are provision of limited medical aid, collection of information regarding the health impacts of the isolation of Gaza by Israel and international policy-makers, and expression of solidarity with Palestinian civilians and medical professionals under siege.
The Israeli government has maintained a total siege of the Gaza Strip since the democratically-elected Hamas party took power in June 2007. Sixty-one Palestinian patients have died due to being denied access to needed medical care by Israeli forces in that time period.
The Physicians for Human Rights declared their intention to give a message to U.S. President George W. Bush as he visits the region this week, to show him that the Israeli siege on Gaza is severely impacting the ability of Palestinian hospitals to provide medical care. Electricity cut-offs, prevention of imports of medical equipment, and closure of borders preventing patients from receiving needed treatment abroad are all factors that have had a detrimental, and often deadly, impact on the Palestinian medical sector in Gaza.
PHR-Israel stated that the broader context of the convoy is to focus international attention on Israeli policy at Erez Crossing, which has increasingly denied access to care of hundreds of patients in need of treatment unavailable in the Gaza Strip, thus jeopardizing their lives and health.
According to the group's press release, the most recent stage of this policy was a ruling Wednesday by three Israeli high court judges. In that ruling, eight out of fifteen urgent life-threatening cases represented by a PHR-Israel petition have been denied access to life-saving care outside Gaza without any hope of redress. Despite a previous high court ruling that stipulated that patients with security prohibitions should be ensured alternative routes of access to care, the court refused to compel the state to ensure passage to the patients.
The group called on the international community and concerned individuals worldwide to write to Israeli officials or to their nearest Israeli consulate to demand an end to the Israeli siege on Gaza for the sake of the patients in need of lifesaving medical care.