In April 2011, the Deputy Director of the International Red Cross in Gaza, Mathilde De Riedmatten, stated that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. However, the Red Cross website has an entire section claiming that “Gaza health care is in danger”, pointing a finger at Israel. Several multilingual versions of this same article also that “the importation of medical supplies to Gaza is restricted, resulting in frequent shortages of drugs” (translated from French).
So which is true?
We spoke with Major Moshe Levy, former Head of the PR Branch of the Coordination and Liaison Administration of the Gaza Strip, to get our facts straight from the source. He said:
“Israel allows the passage of all medicine and medical equipment purchased by the Palestinian Authority. There are no Israeli restrictions on the amount or type of medications transferred to Gaza. There is a lack of medicine, but it is not due to Israeli restrictions. The reason for this is the low health care budget of the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA’s annual budget devoted to medical care for the Palestinian population in Judea & Samaria and Gaza (about 3.5 million people) amounts to less than the budget of the Israeli hospital in Tel HaShomer, which supports less than one million patients a year.
The Gazan Department of Health is in contact with the PA in Judea and Samaria, and must, under Palestinian law, pass along its demands to the Palestinian Department of Health in Ramallah. If the PA has these medical supplies in stock, it ensures their transfer into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing. Maj. Moshe Levy adds:
“The transfer of drugs has priority over all other commodities. 100% of the Palestinian demands are met by the Israeli Ministry of Health.”
Israel transfers anywhere between 3,000-6,000 tons of cargo daily, depending on the supplies sent, but it can actually transfer up to 12,000 tons per day. The PA can maximize the transfer capacity of the crossing, and thereby avoid shortages, if it would send more supplies every day. Maj. Moshe Levy explains:
“We know there is a lack of medical supplies in Gaza. The budget allocated by the PA to health care in Gaza is far less than it needs to be. To address this problem, we give Palestinian patients the option of seeking treatment in Israel, East Jerusalem or in Judea and Samaria. These treatments are supported by the PA and coordinated by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories of the IDF.”
According to a report by the WHO (World Health Organization) in 2011, 93% of PA requests for Gazans to receive treatment outside the Gaza Strip were coordinated by Israel. In 2011, more than 18,000 Palestinian patients received treatment outside the Gaza Strip, 48% of which were treated in Israeli hospitals.
For more about the dynamics between Israel, the PA and Gaza: Gaza Economy.