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Two young Palestinians, Yousef Karnaz, 20, and Mohammad Al-‘Ajouri, 17, recently fell victim to a punitive Israeli policy restricting access to healthcare for Palestinian living under Israeli occupation.

On March 30, Karnaz and Al-‘Ajouri participated in protests that took place across the Gaza Strip and the remaining Occupied Territories in observation of Land Day. More than 1,400 Palestinians, including Karnaz andAl-‘Ajouri, were wounded when Israeli military used live ammunition against protesters. The young men were taken to Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital for care. Gaza’s health care infrastructure has been crippled by an almost decade-long Israeli blockade, and local doctors did not have the resources necessary to treat the men’s wounds.

On April 1, Al Shifa hospital submitted a request to the Israeli military to transfer the pair to Al-Istishari Hospital in Ramallah. On April 5, the the Military Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) refused the request, saying that the two young men were wounded “as a result of their participation in a violent riot organized by Hamas,” according to a statement issued by Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. After a series of  legal petitions and delays, doctors at Al Shifa had no choice but to amputate the legs of both men on April 11. Now, Karnaz risks losing his second leg, unless the Israeli Supreme Court intervenes.

Karnaz and Al-‘Ajouri’s situations are not unique. Indeed, Palestinians regularly face arduous and time-consuming legal hurdles, in order to access their universal right to healthcare. In Karnaz and Al-‘Ajouri’s case, Adalah and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights intervened and filed a petition on their behalf to the Israeli Supreme Court on April 8, urgently requesting their medical evacuation. Despite the request’s time sensitive nature, the Supreme Court gave government attorneys three days to respond. According to a statement on Adalah’s website, it was these delays, coupled with the punitive Israeli policy, that “ultimately resulted in the amputation of the two men’s legs.”

In an attempt to save Karnaz’s other leg, Adalah requested an urgent hearing at the Supreme Court, which was held on April 12. During the hearing, the Supreme Court ordered the state to explain its refusal to evacuate the pair, and recommended Karnaz’s evacuation to Al-Istishari Hospital, however, the Israeli Defense Ministry refused to implement the court’s recommendation, according to Adalah.

On previous occasions, the Israeli Supreme Court has recognized the urgency of similar medical cases, yet has refrained from intervening in military decision-making on these matters.  According to an Amnesty International statement, in 2008, thirteen people suffering from various urgent and dire medical conditions, including cancer, were barred from leaving Gaza for so-called security reasons, in order to access care.  

Withholding access to medical treatment for Palestinians is a growing trend. On February 13, 2018, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Medical Aid for Palestinians and PHRI released a statement, revealing that Israeli authorities had approved only 54% of permit requests for medical appointments in 2017. This is nearly a 50% drop from 2012, when 98% of such requests were approved. Also in 2017, a total of 54 Palestinians died awaiting permits, according to the World Health Organization. 

An additional hearing in Karnaz’s case has been scheduled for April 15. Further delaying a decision in this matter is cruel and unjust, robbing Karnaz of his dignity and right to medical care – something countless other Palestinians living under Israeli occupation have also regularly experienced.

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