Colonel Nir Press called the WHO report concerning the passage of medical supplies and Gazan patients through the Erez crossing "one-sided, mistaken and misleading".
Communicated by The Coordination & Liaison Administration, Erez
Col. Nir Press, head of the Coordination & Liaison Administration at the Erez crossing, invited the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Gaza Strip and its operational director for an urgent meeting today to express his objections to the contents of the WHO report and the way it was presented at yesterday’s press conference.
Col. Press emphasized that there is ongoing coordination between his office and WHO concerning the transfer of medical equipment and medications and that all requests are met immediately and affirmatively. WHO, which does not coordinate the passage of patients from Gaza [into Israel for medical treatment], published a report based on unreliable information and is using it without checking with the Israeli side regarding the status of the cases in question.
According to Col. Press, the harsh statements made by the World Health Organization, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations, indicate a one-sided, mistaken and misleading stance.
The State of Israel, in absolute contrast to the claims made in the report, takes a humanitarian, humane approach every single hour of every day, despite the constant security threat.
Col. Press reminded the head of WHO that the Gaza Strip is controlled by a terror organization that is responsible for the population there, does not recognize Israel, and perpetrates and encourages terror attacks on a daily basis. He was amazed that WHO made no charges against Hamas for delaying patients at the Erez crossing with its incessant barrage of mortar fire directed at the crossing. Nor was there any mention of Hamas’s cynical exploitation of Israel’s humanitarian practices, including permits to leave Gaza for medical treatments which are used by terrorists in their attempts to carry out attacks in Israel.
Thus, for example, in May 2007 two women arrived at the Erez crossing under the pretext of going for medical examinations at the Ramallah hospital, but, as it transpired, their true intention was to commit suicide attacks in Netanya and Tel Aviv.
This state of affairs compels Israel to perform necessary security checks, which sometimes result in unavoidable delays at the crossing point.
Regarding the statements by the WHO head that departures from Gaza are allowed only in exceptional cases, the statistics clearly indicate otherwise. In 2007, 7,226 exit permits were issued for patients and another 7,922 for their family member escorts, a 50% increase over 2006.
This trend is continuing in 2008: in the first quarter, 2,317 exits were arranged for patients and a similar number for the relatives accompanying them. The lives of hundreds of people have been saved by sending them for urgent treatment in Israeli hospitals.
Col. Press added that dozens of patients leave for various treatments in Israel each day, thanks to coordination between Coordination & Liaison Administration staff and health representatives under Chairman Abu Mazen. In recent months, the transport of ten trucks full of medical equipment and supplies for the WHO was coordinated. All their requests were approved. If there is any shortage of equipment or medicine, it is due to Hamas’s redirecting vast sums of money for terror purposes rather than using them to improve conditions in the Gaza hospitals. The same holds true for the rest of the organizations and institutions operating in the Gaza Strip that request medical equipment and drugs.
If WHO had contacted the Coordination & Liaison Administration to check the biased statistics that they were given for their report, as demanded by professional fairness, they would have discovered a completely different picture.
Regarding specific cases mentioned in the report:
1. Mona Nofel – a cancer patient, whose exit [for treatment] was arranged on three separate occasions and who was treated in Israel in July 2007, August 2007 and October 2007. She died in Gaza as a result of her disease.
2. Fatma Abed Alaal’s request was approved by the Coordination & Liaison Administration in November 2007. A message regarding her case was delivered to a Palestinian health representative, but the woman never arrived and no other requests were made.
3. Kassem Harara’s request to be allowed to go to Egypt for medical treatment was approved and coordinated by the Coordination & Liaison Administration back in July 2007. Since then no repeat/additional requests have been received.
4. Amir Yazji – a request regarding the boy was sent to the Coordination & Liaison Administration on November 18, 2007 and his exit was approved that same day. At the request of the Palestinians, his exit was delayed until the next day due to a deterioration in his medical condition, as determined by the attending physician in Gaza. We, of course, granted the delay.
5. Mahmoud Abu-Taha arrived at the Erez crossing and was denied exit at that time due to concrete security warnings. Eventually he went to a hospital in Israel for medical treatment and died there.
According to a preliminary check of the names in the 27 other cases that came to our knowledge today, some were admitted for medical treatment in Israeli hospitals, others were approved but did not show up at the crossing, and some are unknown to us – possibly no request was submitted in their regard.
Col. Press reiterated his oft-repeated request that WHO support the development of independent health systems in the Gaza Strip and work with the relevant bodies to extricate the Palestinian health system in Gaza from the cycle of hatred and cynical exploitation.