Gazan woman and baby in Barzilai Hospital
Gazan woman and baby in Barzilai HospitalIsrael News Photo: (Flash 90)

A decision by the Palestinian Authority Health Minister to cut off medical benefits at Israeli hospitals has cost the life of at least one little girl, and it is not clear how many more will follow.

Following the recent counterterrorist Operation Cast Lead against Gaza terrorists, PA minister Fathi Abu Moughli decided in January to stop covering Israeli hospital expenses of PA residents who cross the security barrier to receive treatment.

As a result, strokes have gone untreated and life-saving chemotherapy, radiotherapy and bone marrow transplants for cancer patients have been put off indefinitely.

Six-year-old Asil Manasra died. The Palestinian Authority child had for eight months been receiving intensive treatment at an Israeli hospital for complications arising from tuberculosis. One week after the PA Health Ministry forced her family to stop the visits, the little girl struggled for breath no more.

Asil first became ill after receiving a TB vaccination as a six-month-old infant. During the following four years, her father, Jamal Manasra told the Associated Press that said she was subsequently misdiagnosed by two PA hospitals. The child became sicker and sicker with severe stiffness, high fever, and then acquiring liver and lung infections. Only as a five-year-old did Asil win a referral to Hadassah, where the race for time began, as the disease had overwhelmed most of her body, necessitating intensive, constant treatments.

The PA Health Ministry decision ended the race in February, cutting off payments for the life-saving treatments. The little girl spent the last week of her life in a hospital in Bethlehem, where medication was administered per the advice of her doctor at Hadassah.

"I blame everyone. Should children die because of political decisions?" Asil's father asked the AP reporter in anguish. "How can you stop treatment? When a child is so sick that she is going to die, is there something more important than that?"

Mahmoud Manasra of Wadi Fukeen near Jerusalem, fears he will be next. The 23-year-old was forced last month to stop the life-saving chemotherapy treatment for leukemia he had received for the past year at Hadassah Medical Center. "God knows how much I worry, my situation is getting worse," he said. "We are waiting for mercy to come down from the sky."

Manasra's mother Aaliya agonizes over the situation: "My son is in danger — each day I die with him a hundred deaths," she said.

Sharp Drop in Referrals

Initially, Abu Moughli restricted the reversal to Gazans who were wounded during Operation Cast Lead, saying those who were injured were transferred to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Morocco and other Arab countries “so that they would not have to be treated by the same country that harmed them.”

But the PA minister told the AP that the policy change aimed not only to cut costs, but “to rid Palestinians of their need for Israeli medicine and deny the Jewish State a ‘propaganda’ campaign that improves its world image while the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority foots the bill.”

"We are trying to free our health system from dependence," he said.

The Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan has reported a 60 percent drop in PA referrals since Operation Cast Lead ended on Jan. 18. Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem said it has only received several dozen referrals of Arab patients in February, compared with an average of 1,600 per month (!) last year.

'Treat Them for Free'

The leftist Physicians for Human Rights-Israel group, meanwhile has blamed the Jewish State in part for the situation due to the cost of treatment. The group contends that the way to solve the problem is that Israeli hospitals should agree to treat the PA patients for free.

A Hadassah official responded that the hospital has, in fact, treated some "special cases" for free, but added: "You can't run a hospital if you treat everyone for free."

Abu Moughli maintained that the PA’s health system has greatly improved and that there is no need to send patients to Israel. Moreover, it is expensive. Instead, the patients that cannot be treated in the PA are now referred to Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere, thus saving some $17 million, and avoiding what the minister said was a cost of up to four times that of medical care in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Asil's father Jamal claims, however, that it was the PA hospitals that made his daughter sick to begin with. "They lacked experience," Asil's father said of the many PA doctors who treated her. "If they knew what the problem was, she wouldn't have gotten worse."