Ethan Bronner
The New York Times
February 10, 2009 - 1:00am

JERUSALEM — Scores of Palestinian patients being treated in Israeli hospitals, a rare bright spot of coexistence here, are being sent home because the Palestinian Authority has stopped paying for their treatment, partly in anger over the war in Gaza.

Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem says that for the past week, no payments have come in and Palestinians whose children it is treating have been instructed by Palestinian health officials to place them in facilities in the West Bank, Jordan or Egypt.

“Suddenly we have had 57 patients dropped from our rolls,” said Dr. Michael Weintraub, director of pediatric hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplantation at Hadassah. “We have been bombarded by frantic parents. This is a political decision taken on the backs of patients.”

The Palestinian health minister, Fathi Abu Moghli, said he was examining the entire referral procedure because he was tired of adding to what he called Israel’s “oil well,” meaning the payments for Palestinian patient care. In particular, he said, he had no desire to see the wounded from the Gaza war receive Israeli care.

“We already pay $7 million a month to Israeli hospitals,” he said in a telephone interview. “Since the first day of the Gaza aggression, I said that I will not send to my occupier my injured people in order for him to make propaganda at my expense, and then pay him for it.”

An Israeli clinic set up with great fanfare on the Israeli-Gaza border the day the war ended, Jan. 18, has already closed, since both Hamas, which governs Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority essentially boycotted it. The Palestinian Authority pays for much of its citizens’ care in Israel from its budget.

Israel has long pointed to its medical care of Palestinians as an example of its advanced skills and humanitarianism. Palestinians generally are eager to gain the benefit, but are also resentful. As relations have chilled, each side has accused the other of political manipulation.

Dr. Abu Moghli said that with 24 hospitals in Gaza and the West Bank, there was no reason for so many Palestinian patients to go automatically to Israeli facilities, which he said were much more expensive and contributed to a culture of dependency.

“We can’t pay our government salaries this month, but at the same time I have to pay Israeli hospitals so much,” he said. “The Israelis have refused to reduce their costs.”

Israeli doctors and nonprofit groups support having the Palestinians provide more care for their own people, but say that the gap with Israel in quality remains huge, and that the Palestinian Authority is making a mistake that could cost lives.

“Cutting it in one day makes no sense,” said Ron Pundak, director general of the Peres Center for Peace, which sponsors care for 1,000 Palestinian children a year in Israeli hospitals and training for 40 Palestinian doctors. “Such a move needs to be coordinated, but dialogue with the Palestinian Authority has been much harder since the war.”

Anan Dahmi, a salesman from the West Bank city of Tulkarm, said he had been told by the Palestinian Health Ministry last week that his 4-year-old son, Aous, had to stop going to Hadassah Hospital for follow-up treatments after a bone marrow transplant there a year ago, and should be taken instead to a Palestinian or Jordanian hospital.

Mr. Dahmi said that his 6-year-old daughter had died from the same disorder because he had not gotten her to Hadassah quickly enough, and that now he was deeply worried about his son.

“I don’t know how I am going to manage,” he said by telephone. “I don’t want to lose my son the way I lost my daughter.”

Hadassah officials say that removing Aous from their care could endanger his life, because his medical requirements are strict and specific and there is not yet a pediatric oncology facility in the Palestinian areas (one in East Jerusalem is due to start functioning, with Israeli help, in the coming year).

They add that while the cost of care is much higher in Israel than in the West Bank, Palestinians are not charged the higher rates for foreigners but those for Israelis — which are much lower than rates in the United States or Western Europe. In addition, they say, there are subsidies from foreign governments, charities and the hospital itself.

“The cure rate for childhood cancer is about 80 percent, but only in the first world,” Dr. Weintraub, of Hadassah, said. “It costs between $50,000 and $100,000 here. It costs four times that in the U.S.”

He added that the relationship between an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem and patients in the West Bank was like that between a hospital in El Paso and patients on the Mexican side of the border.

“People in the third world want first-world care just like we do,” he said. “If they live in Malawi, they have no hope for it. But if they live 10 minutes from Hadassah, they will do everything they can to get admitted. And we are happy to take them. There are no politics in our wards. Twenty percent of our patients are Palestinians, and we have one common enemy: cancer. The rest is immaterial. The question now is how to get those patients back into our care.”

Hamas Returns Supplies to U.N.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) — The United Nations said Monday that Hamas had returned all of the aid supplies that it seized from the agency in the Gaza Strip last week.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said the return of the supplies cleared the way for it to resume all of its operations in Gaza. The agency had suspended imports of goods on Friday after accusing Hamas of twice seizing aid supplies, which included food and blankets.


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