In early August, Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) - an Israeli human rights organization focused on the right to health - sent an update to the CHIFA community to highlight obstacles the Israeli authorities had placed on access to medical services by Gazan children.
Medical organizations stand up for right to health:
In response to PHRI’s call, several organizations, including the International Society on Social Pediatrics and Child Health (ISSOP) and the European Academy of Pediatrics called on the Israeli Pediatrics Society to work to ensure that children be given “swift and safe access to medical treatment in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel”. The Israeli Pediatrics Society then wrote to the Ministry of Health for clarification and noted in its public correspondence with the aforementioned organizations the importance of the rights of all children, regardless of nationality.
Child separation and medical impact:
Since the breakdown of the coordination mechanism between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, PHRI has assisted 266 patients, including 59 children, 20 of whom had cancer, who needed a medical exit permit from the Israeli authorities to leave Gaza and secure treatment in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel. These children were unable to receive a medical exit permit after because their parents were denied an accompanier permit and so could not leave with them for treatment. This forces upon families with sick children a nearly-impossible choice: parting from the child, and sending them with someone else (a distant relative, or even a stranger) to undergo invasive treatment and surgeries, so that the child can secure medical care, or try again to secure a permit, with concomitant delays to treatment. These most recent developments continue the situation which PHRI has documented since 2018 and, indeed, in 2019, according to Ministry of Defence figures, 1 out of 5 children from Gaza left for treatment. without their parents.
The presence of parental figures has a medical impact, including on recovery speed, while childhood trauma resulting from separation is widely noted in medical literature. The Charter of the European Association for Children in Hospital (EACH) codifies the principle that “parents are considered by the caring team as partners who are as much as possible involved in the treatment of their child.” It further notes that “the right of children not to be separated from their parents, and to have their parents with them, is integral to the care of sick children. The best interests of the child should always be taken into consideration.” and that “Children have the right to have their parents with them regardless of the child’s age, 24-hours a day.” As such, back in March 2020, the International Society of Social Pediatrics and Child Health condemned child separation - whether in the US or in Gaza - due to its impact on children.
Possible steps forward:
The lack of sensitivity to the rights of children in this context has been roundly criticised by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which called on the Israeli authorities to “ensure that all children referred for medical treatment outside Gaza can be accompanied by at least one of their parents.”
A UN mediated temporary coordination mechanism has, as of the first week of September, been instituted and will assist in coordination medical exit permits. However, Israeli policy regarding child separation and the root of the problem - the permit system - has not changed. The recent involvement of professional organizations abroad sends a clear message: healthcare workers have a professional and ethical duty to protect the right to health. We are happy to hear that the Israeli Pediatric Society has turned to the Ministry of Health, and hope that the Israeli Pediatric Society will now take a clear and unequivocal position in support of the rights of children in Gaza, including as regards child separation.
CHIFA Profile: Dana Moss is International Advocacy Coordinator at Physicians for Human Rights Israel. Professional interests: vulnerable communities.
Email address: danaATphr.org.il