Indy cites false NGO claim that Israel prevents Gaza docs from traveling abroad.

The Independent uncritically quoted an NGO claim that Gaza doctors are prevented by Israel from traveling abroad for training. However, we contacted a spokesperson from the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating such travel and they flatly denied the claim, citing hundreds of such crossings for Gaza doctors each year.

A recent article by Bethan Mckernan at The Independent reported that the Palestinian Authority was being blamed for the deaths of three children in Gaza, after authorities in Ramallah reportedly failed to approve medical exit permits to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.

The article (“Three Palestinian babies have died in Gaza and no one will accept responsibility”, June 30thstressed that this denial of an exit permit by the PA wasn’t an isolated incident:

In 2016 the average number of requests approved per month was 2,041 – but in May and June 2017, while there were 120 requests made a day, the PA granted on average just 10. 

Though the Indy report is largely fair, it nonetheless included the claim that Israel was also partly to blame for the broader problem of Gaza’s deteriorating healthcare system.  A representative of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) claimed that “Israel prevents Gazan doctors from travelling abroad for training and the blockade prevents essential medical equipment from reaching hospitals“.

First, as we noted previously, there are almost no Israeli restrictions on essential medical equipment going to Gaza.  The only banned medical related equipment are those classified as dual-use (items that have both civilian and military uses). This includes radioactive materials like radiation and CAT scans.

Concerning the other claim, that Gaza doctors are prevented from traveling abroad (countries outside of the region) for training, this also appears to be untrue.  We contacted a spokesperson from COGAT (the Israeli Defence Ministry unit which coordinates government activities in the territories) to get an answer about this specific claim by PHR-I, and they flatly denied it.  

Here’s their reply:

The statement is not correct, the opposite is correct, through the Erez Crossing, doctors and medical teams enter Israel for professional training in Israel and abroad. In 2016 alone, 221 crossings of doctors were coordinated for professional training abroad. Whilst another additional 43 crossings were coordinated in 2017. It is important to note that the list of doctors is determined by the Palestinian authority. COGAT coordinated crossings of residents in the Gaza strip into Israel, Judea and Samaria, and abroad through the Erez crossing for various needs such as; medical treatments, trade, representatives of international organizations, professional training abroad, students and etc.

The larger issue unexplored by the Indy is that, though Israel coordinates tens of thousands of medical related crossings from Gaza into Israel and the West Bank each year, Hamas continuously abuses such permits given to Gazans “to transfer terror funds, weapons, instructions and intelligence to perform terror attacks in Israel.” In April, it was reported that two Gazan sisters tried to smuggle explosives into Israel “using tubes labeled for medication, taking advantage of an entry permit issued for one of them to seek cancer treatment”. 

We’ve contacted Indy editors seeking a correction to the erroneous claims in the article. 

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