A Lack of Healthcare Mobility in the Gaza Strip

A baby born in Israel will live, on average, ten years longer than one born in Palestine. The mother of the baby birthed in Israel is four times less likely to pass away during childbirth than the Palestinian mother, and the Israeli-born baby is five times less likely to die before he turns one. The baby born in Israel will most likely get all the necessary vaccines, administered by a regularly paid healthcare worker. An Israeli baby is a lucky one, because according to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, this is not the case just a few miles away in the Palestinian Territories.

Although more than a year has passed since the 50-day war in Gaza, Doctors Without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization, notes that the more than 12,070 houses and hospitals damaged last summer seemed as if they’d been destroyed more recently. There has been little to no progress in rebuilding infrastructure due to the Israeli blockade on Gaza. The Israeli government justifies the blockade, in place since 2007, as necessary to limit rocket attacks from Gaza and prevent Hamas from building or importing weapons. “Dual-use” materials, meaning anything that might be used to create weapons, are restricted, including cement, wheelchairs, and batteries for hearing aids.

As a result, many Gazans are forced to live in damaged homes they are unable to repair, which according to Doctors Without Borders, leads to their clinics treating many children with severe burns from home heating and cooking accidents. This situation, combined with Palestinians being treated for war-related injuries, creates a medical crisis that is worsened by the Israeli blockade, preventing Palestinians from obtaining the resources they need to heal.

A 2015 report published Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) entitled “Divide & Conquer: Inequality in Health” addressed the Israeli influence over the health of the Palestinian population in Palestinian territories and the resultant health disparities between Israelis and Palestinians. According to PHR-I, the Israeli control mechanisms that prevent the Palestinian Ministry of Health from providing adequate health services include the imposed limitations on the movement of patients, medical personnel, and medications, as well as control of social health determinants like nutrition.

The importation of medical supplies into Palestinian Territories provides a particularly interesting case. The Israeli Ministry of Health controls the pharmaceutical market in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a few ways. For one, importation of medicines is limited to medications that are registered in Israel. This means that Palestinians cannot purchase pharmaceuticals from nearby Arab markets, although these medications would be far cheaper than the Israeli medications that are priced for “first world” consumers.

Secondly, the blockade limits Gazans from importing the raw materials that might be used to manufacture their own medications and thus avoid the high costs of Israeli pharmaceuticals. The effects of limited amounts of medical supplies circulating the Palestinian Territories are further exacerbated by Hamas’s decision to ban many prescription painkillers due to high rates of addiction in Gaza, leaving many Palestinians who desperately need medication without any means of accessing it.

The Israeli blockade also heavily influences social determinants of health, especially through the food supplies permitted or banned from entering Gaza. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, at various points during the now 8 year-long blockade, up to 61 percent of the Gazan population has lacked reliable access to affordable and nutritious food. Some of the food items that have been banned in the past, according to NGOs such as Gisha and Human Rights Watch, include tea, jam, lentils, and coriander.

In 2010, after the release of government research that counted the amount of calories that Palestinians in Gaza needed to consume to avoid malnutrition, an internal Israeli government study revealed that the restrictions on food were intended to put pressure on Hamas by limiting food supplies. The World Health Organization reported various health issues from the restricted access of not only imported food supplies, but also the suppression of the agriculture sector in Gaza, including malnutrition, underweight children, and high rates of anemia among children and pregnant women.

Many would agree that healthcare is a human right; every person should have the right to access the highest possible standard of health, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or income. To argue against the right to health would essentially be arguing that some people have more of a right to live than others—that some lives are worth more than others. Whether or not you support the Israeli blockade and occupation of Palestinian Territories, there are facts that cannot be ignored. The infant mortality rate in the Palestinian Territories is 18.8 per 1000 live births, but 3.7 in Israel. There are far fewer medical professionals serving Palestinians than there are in Israel. The incidence of infectious diseases is higher in the Occupied Territories, and there are necessary inoculations that are unavailable to Palestinians.

These are issues related, directly and indirectly, to the inability of necessary medical equipment, food supplies, and building materials to move through the Israeli blockade. Does the Israeli government think that Palestinian lives are worth less than Israeli ones? The Israeli government’s continuation of the blockade and occupation in Palestine is akin to taking the position that some lives, namely Palestinian ones, are inherently worth less.

Anika Kabani

Anika Kabani is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at akabani@wustl.edu.

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