Israel travel ban: Gaza nurses protest loss of permits, layoffs

Nurses expressed anger at Israel, which has restricted the entrance of Palestinians from Gaza, and the Makassed hospital which laid them off.

Human rights groups have long criticised the permit process, saying its criteria are vague [File: Mohammed Abed/AFP]

A group of nurses from the besieged Gaza Strip have staged a protest in a public square, saying an Israeli travel ban has led the Jerusalem hospital they worked at for many years to fire them.

Seven nurses, who worked at the Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem for at least 20 years each, gathered in Gaza City on Wednesday, wearing lab coats and holding banners that said: “Firing us is a death sentence for our profession and families.”

They are angry at Israel – which has heavily restricted the ability of Palestinians to leave the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, even for work – and at the decision by Makassed to lay them off.

“We never expected that Makassed would dismiss us arbitrarily,” said Baher Lulu, 53, a critical-care nurse who said he joined the hospital 30 years ago when travel from Gaza to Jerusalem did not require Israeli permission.

“This has hurt us and our families, who rely heavily on this income.”

Vaguely defined permit process

Israel has always formally required a work permit for Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to work in Israel.

Before the first Intifada – 1987 to 1993 – the permit system was reportedly widely unenforced or permits easily acquired when applied for. After the Intifada, work permits have become increasingly difficult to obtain for Palestinians.

In 2007, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas gained control of the territory, and movement became even more difficult.

Under the blockade, it restricts the entrance of Palestinians from Gaza to Israel on security grounds it defines, with some humanitarian exceptions.

The medics said they used to receive renewable three-month permits that allowed them to spend the week at Makassed and return to Gaza each weekend.

But, they say, starting in 2016 Israeli authorities gradually stopped issuing permits – citing security controls – and by 2019, none of them had permits.

COGAT, the Israeli body that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs, said it is forced to restrict access because Hamas “does not hesitate to promote terrorism by cynically exploiting the Gaza Strip’s population”.

It said its rules for entry are available on its website, and every permit request “is thoroughly examined by the relevant professionals, subject to security considerations”.

Human rights groups have long criticised the permit process, saying the criteria are vague.

An official from Makassed, one of several hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem serving Palestinians from the city, West Bank and Gaza, declined to comment.

The nurses say the hospital had asked them to volunteer at medical centres in their hometown until they could travel again. But this summer, they received the dismissal letters, brought by a patient returning from treatment in Jerusalem.

The medics say Makassed has weathered a series of financial challenges, but they believe a decision by the Trump administration in 2018 to redirect US aid elsewhere from the network of occupied East Jerusalem hospitals has left the hospital unable to continue paying their salaries.

The medics say there is no chance of finding full-time work in Gaza, where unemployment is close to 50 percent.

Source: News Agencies