Israel bars 70 Gaza patients over 'Palestine' logo
GAZA CITY - Agence France-PresseThe Israeli authorities have blocked 70 patients from Gaza from entering Israel to receive medical treatment because their transfer documents were marked "State of Palestine", officials told AFP on Wednesday. Until recently, official stationery has used the term "Palestinian territories".
But the logo was changed in mid-December, a year after the Palestinians won recognition as a UN observer state, despite fierce Israeli opposition. "The Israelis have prevented 70 sick people who need to go to Israeli hospitals from crossing Erez because it said 'State of Palestine' on their transfer request," said a senior Palestinian official at the Gaza district coordination office (DCO).
"It was only this week that they informed me personally that Israel refuses to deal with this document," he told AFP.
"This is a political decision from the Israelis to exert pressure in the negotiations," he charged, referring to US-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. A senior official from the Ramallah-based health ministry, who is in charge of external treatment requests, said it was the first time since mid-December that patients had been refused a permit on the basis of the logo on the medical transfer request.
"The Israeli side informed us that following a decision from COGAT, they won't give any permits to any patients with that logo," he said.
Since mid-December, between 40 and 70 patients a day had crossed for medical treatment in Israel or the West Bank, he said, saying all of the transfer requests had been marked with the "State of Palestine" logo. A spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit responsible for coordinating civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, confirmed that the permits had been refused because they were submitted on stationary bearing the problematic logo.
"Upon receiving the documents stamped 'State of Palestine', it was decided to return them to the DCO without considering them and demand they be refiled in the accepted way," he said in a statement sent to AFP.
After the papers were "appropriately filed", urgent medical cases "were examined and approved on short notice", he added.
In January, Haaretz newspaper said a Gaza woman had been barred from travelling to the West Bank to care for her cancer-stricken mother because the medical report describing her condition was marked "State of Palestine".
Initially her request was ignored, then it was denied but no reason was given. Following the intervention of Israel NGO HaMoked, it emerged that her request was denied because of the problematic logo.
In January 2013, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas ordered that work begin to ensure that all official documents, including passports, ID cards and driving licences, be marked "State of Palestine" in a move to strengthen Palestinian sovereignty. Until now, official documents issued by Abbas's government have been labelled as issued by the Palestinian Authority.
Gaza is ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement, which has no official contact with Israel, so all requests must be processed through officials from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, some of whom are stationed in the coastal enclave.