Did red tape contribute to a Palestinian patient's death? The family members of Gaza Strip resident Mahmoud abu-Amro claimed Sunday that the military's procrastination in giving the 58-year-old cancer patient the necessary clearance to receive treatment in Israel was the direct cause of his death.
Abu-Amro had been a patient of the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv for the past two years, undergoing his last session in February of 2008. According to his family, when he tried to enter Israel for treatment through Erez crossing in March, he was refused passage due to security concerns.
Abu-Amro reportedly arrived at the crossing with two medical briefs, written by Dr. Michal Lotem, an oncologist at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem and Dr. Ella Evron an oncologist at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, citing he was in need of urgent medical care.
"The patient is suffering from a terminal disease. The treatment can both prolong his life and ease his suffering… it has a basic humanitarian purpose," wrote Dr. Lotem.
The family petitioned the Israeli authorities several times, via the Physicians for Human Rights association, requesting their patriarch be allowed entry to Israel for treatment.
Abu-Amro even met with a Shin Bet officer at Erez crossing, where he was told – according to his son, Dr. Salman abu-Amro – that one of his sons "was growing a beard and praying in a mosque, and that he should stand up against Hamas."
"Yes, my brother is praying and he has a beard – as he has had for the past few years – but he has never been affiliated with any organization and it has never stopped my father from getting treatments in Israel before.
"How can my brother having a beard turn into the kind of security risk that would prevent my father form getting treatment?" Salman wondered.
His father, he added, was instructed to order his son to stop visiting the mosque, "but as for speaking against Hamas, my father told (the officer) that if the United States and Israel have not been able to overpower Hamas, it is unlikely that a 58-year-old cancer patient could help them."
Following a Physicians for Human Rights and several Arab Knesset members' plea on abu-Amro's behalf, the Shin Bet and the IDF eventually granted him and two other patient entry to Israel. The three were scheduled to enter the country last week, but abu-Amro died several days before arriving at the Sourasky Medical Center.
According to his son, days after abu-Amro's death, the family was notified that the he would be able to enter Israel earlier than planned. "They only did it to look good for the human rights groups, but I'm sure they agreed to push up the date only because they knew my father was already dead.
"We are treated like a bunch pf papers, like people who have no feelings," said Salman. "The Israeli authorities' approach in inhumane," he added, saying he knows of at least three more patients who died because they were denied entry to Israel for treatment.
Hadas Ziv, head of Physicians for Human Rights, said that "the security forces deny patients entry for treatment as a default measure, citing security concerns. Now more then ever, we need the public and the politicians to get involved in these cases in order to facilitate the patients."
Meretz-Yahad Chairman Chaim Oron added that "it is impossible to have a situation in which the Defense Ministry's bureaucracy claims lives. I urge Defense Minister Ehud Barak to elasticize patients' criteria and allow those in need to get treatment."