Jerusalem24 – Over 15 years of Israeli blockade on Gaza have left the medical institutions in the Strip in tatters, with patients unable to access life-saving treatments even if they could afford them.
A simple idea, 18 months in the making, has now come to the aid of Gazans in critical need of medical attention, in the form of a partnership between the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Basmat Amal Foundation for Cancer Patients Care, and in direct coordination with Al-Makassed Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem.
Al-Amal Bus (“Hope bus”) is a program offering both a free means of transportation between Gaza and Jerusalem, in order to ease the burden of travel on fragilized patients, and a helping hand in the convoluted bureaucracy involved in acquiring a permit from Israel to exit Gaza for medical treatment.
Defeating the deadly bureaucracy
“The Palestinian Center for Human Rights works to help patients from a legal point of view, and patients whose exit permits for treatment are suspended,” Muhammad Bseiso, a lawyer with PCHR, tells Jerusalem24.
“We use all legal tools and means at our disposal to put direct pressure on the Israeli side in order to facilitate the entry and exit of patients, as well as follow up on cases of both patients and companions whose permits have been delayed or rejected.”
In 2021, 36% of 15,000 Gazan patients’ permit requests to Israeli authorities were either rejected, delayed, or received no response, preventing them from accessing the critical care unavailable in Gaza.
Accompanying family members also frequently see their permits denied or delayed, resulting in an average of 40% of children having to travel and receive treatment alone or with someone other than a parent. Three children from Gaza died in 2022 after being denied permits altogether.
“The importance of having an escort is a priority,” stresses Bseiso, “for a child to have his mother beside him, for an old man to have someone close to him.”
In cases where patients can’t have an accompanying family member by their side, Al-Amal Bus steps in.
The program also relieves patients and their families of any financial burden associated with transportation costs, which are often out of reach as 81,5% of Gazans live below the national poverty line.
“Transport is usually really expensive, sometimes reaching over 300 shekels,” says Bseiso. And there are unfortunate times where drivers will exploit passengers who lack previous experience, he adds.
A godsent for patients
After over a year and a half of careful planning and overcoming bureaucratic hurdles, as well as a test trip to iron out the details and plan for any potential obstacles (particularly concerning the timeliness so critical to patients’ treatment plan and wellbeing) Al-Amal Bus set off on its maiden voyage on 27 February.
Already the initiative has been a godsent and welcomed by both patients and their loved ones.
“People’s prayers and gratitude were wonderful,” says Bseiso. “This also gave us more motivation to continue with this project and help people, and to invest even more time and efforts in this endeavor.”
“Whoever helps people, God will help them.”