No 1 in the WHO oPt Series on Access to Health, No. 1, August 2010
The right to the highest attainable standard of health is enshrined in the 1946 WHO Constitution and numerous human rights instruments. Four criteria make up the right to health: availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality.
Three times a week, Noor H.* from the West Bank goes for dialysis at an East Jerusalem hospital. Chronically ill and barely able to walk, she has to cross an Israeli checkpoint on foot. Most of the time she is meticulously searched. No one from her family can accompany her.
“Each time I’m anxious: How will I reach the hospital? How long will I have to queue? Will the soldiers search me? Will the machine recognize my fingerprint? Three times a week I have to go for dialysis at Augusta Victoria Hospital. I’ve done this for the last twelve years. At the beginning I could get there by car, which took about 15 minutes. Today, with the Wall and the checkpoints around Jerusalem, it takes between half an hour and one hour, including two taxi rides that cost me 60 shekels one way.
At the Israeli checkpoint I have to go through the passenger terminal like everybody else. I can barely walk but there’s no separate line for sick people. Sometimes people in the queue are nice and let me pass, other times they don’t. I have to carry my portable oxygen pump, which weights five kilos and is connected with a tube to my nose. Therefore, I can’t pass the pump through the x-ray machine for luggage. And when I walk through the metal detector with it, the alarm goes off. So most of the time the soldiers take me to a separate room, make me undress and search me.
The Israeli soldiers see me all the time; they know me. All the same, only some of them treat me properly, others shout at me all the time. When I have problems at the checkpoint, for example when my fingerprints are again not recognized, I call the hospital and they try to help me. They also take care of my permit applications, which is a great relief.
In my family, only my father has a permit to enter Jerusalem, but he’s old and can’t accompany me. Seve- ral times I’ve had to be hospitalized for days or weeks. He was the only one who could visit me; someti- mes my mother managed to get a permit, but my brothers and sisters were never allowed to come.
I’m sick and the checkpoint makes me even sicker. When I get up in the morning, I sometimes ask myself: Why don’t I just stay at home? I’m tired of all this.”
*Noor’s name has been changed and some of the details of her story have been omitted in order to protect her identity.
Restricted access for patients to hospitals in East Jerusalem
Almost two thirds of admissions to East Jerusalem hospitals are for patients from the West Bank. To enter the city they need an Israeli-issued permit. Sometimes these permits are granted for shorter periods than the treatment requires, particularly if multiple consultations or operations are necessary. Males aged 15-30 often have their requests for permits turned down on the grounds of security. In many cases, it is also difficult for family members to obtain permits to escort patients to Jerusalem.
Like all West Bank Palestinians, patients are only allowed to use the Qalandiya, Gilo and Zaytoun checkpoints, the three most crowded pedestrian terminals. They have to cross on foot like everybody else. Separate lines for people with special needs either do not exist or are out of service.
WHO oPt, P. O. Box 54812, Jerusalem 95147 phone: +972 2 540 0595