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A woman embraces the covered bodies of her child and her husband killed in an Israeli army bombardment of the Gaza Strip, in the hospital in Khan Younis, in December 2023 Alamy Stock Photo

Cancer patients fighting Israeli government to avoid deportation to Gaza

Up to 40 people are affected and, to date, almost half have lodged petitions to stay in Israel and keep receiving medical care.

PALESTINIAN CANCER PATIENTS are at risk of being sent back to Gaza from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where some are receiving life-saving treatment.

Dozens of patients are the centre of a row between the State of Israel and a group of doctors advocating for their right to keep receiving treatment and follow-up care.

In March, Israel’s Supreme Court temporarily halted a government plan to send a group of Palestinian patients being treated in East Jerusalem and Tel Aviv hospitals back to Gaza.

This decision was made on foot of a petition by the non-profit organisation Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), which decided to take action following a CNN report on the patients.

Ran Yaron, a spokesperson for PHRI, told The Journal that after the patients were “ordered to leave Israel”, PHRI’s legal team “filed an emergency petition to the Israeli Supreme Court to pause the deportations for 30 days”.

“Immediately following the submission of the petition, the Court advised the Israel Defence Forces to temporarily halt the deportation process, and the IDF complied,” Yaron added.

However, he said the State of Israel in April told PHRI that each of the patients would have to “individually submit a case for why they should be allowed to stay”.

On 29 May, the court “issued a decision which mandates the State to apply such a process for all the patients currently in Israel”.

Yaron said patients have until 19 June to submit their requests, adding that their doctors are preparing “their arguments for the right to stay in Israel”.

Up to 40 people are affected and PHRI has filed 19 petitions to stay to date. In some cases, children have accompanied their parents to Israel. 

Israel’s government in March argued that the patients ordered back have finished their medical treatment and that their return would be coordinated with international agencies.

A spokesperson for Cogat, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for overseeing civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, told CNN: “In cases where there is a need for further medical treatment, Cogat arranges their stay with the hospitals to safeguard their health.”

Dima Jalal Saud, The Journal’s reporter in Rafah, earlier today reported about the reality of living with cancer in Gaza.

Fidaa Ghanem (44) was diagnosed with cancer in March. Despite needing critical treatment, her referral to Israel for medical care was blocked on 7 May, the same day the Israeli army took control of the only possible route out of Gaza – the Rafah crossing.


Attorney Tamir Blank, who led PHRI’s legal team at the recent Israeli Supreme Court hearings, told The Journal that if patients’ petitions to stay are refused, he will lodge appeals.

If there are people who want to stay and [Israel] refuse them, then we will follow up and see what we can do. We will go to court again.

Once the requests are lodged, Israel is expected to make a decision within a month. Patients will then have 21 days to appeal if needed.

Blank said some of the patients may want to return to Gaza, saying “even though they’re sick, they would prefer to come back because they want to be with their families”.

He noted that, even before the war started last October, thousands of Palestinian patients travelled to Israel each year for treatment as “there was no way to treat them in Gaza”.

They came here because they didn’t have any medical solution for them in Gaza, for all sorts of reasons. Thousands of patients were coming and going every year.

Blank said some patients would travel to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv for a few weeks to receive cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, before returning to Gaza, then coming back at a later date for another round of treatment.

Since the war began, some people have not been able to return to complete their treatment.

“There’s no guarantee that they can come back to complete their treatment. This could be very, very detrimental,” Blank explained.

‘A very dire condition’

Other patients may have completed their treatment, or undergone an operation, in Israel but will not be able to receive the necessary aftercare in Gaza, he added.

“So, if somebody went through an operation here that wasn’t available in Gaza, they may not need another operation.

However, the medical care and the follow-up they need – which [before the war] they normally could have gotten in Gaza in the past – now they can’t get that.

Blank said patients who cannot receive the treatment or aftercare they need could end up in “a very dire condition”.

He noted that patients would have to return to refugee camps where the sanitation is poor and they may “not have access to even basic medical care”.

Stark statistics

Access to healthcare is very limited in Gaza and many medical facilities are no longer in use.

The Israeli army appears to have turned Gaza’s Turkish Friendship Hospital (which was shuttered in November 2023), formerly the only facility dedicated to cancer patients, into a military base.

According to an April 2024 report from Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), before the 7 October attacks by Hamas in Israel, about 2,000 Gazans a month were referred for treatment to the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Most of those were cancer patients. 

However, the report said that Israeli authorities have now “suspended indefinitely the issuance of referral permits, cutting off an estimated 1,500 cancer patients from lifesaving services and putting them at imminent risk, a situation exacerbated by the closure of Gaza’s sole cancer facility”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in March estimated that 8,000 patients needed to be medically evacuated from Gaza, including 6,000 patients with trauma-related injuries and 2,000 with chronic conditions such as cancer.

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