JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli security agents have been pressuring Gazans
seeking medical treatment abroad to work as informers in violation of
international law, an Israeli rights group said Monday.
A report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said that Palestinian
patients have "become an accessible and important target for the GSS
(General Security Services) for the purposes of recruiting and gathering
Efforts to recruit informers have intensified since the Islamist Hamas
movement seized power in June 2007 and have increasingly focused on
patients, who are some of the only Gazans still crossing into Israel, the
The group suggests such tactics violate international law, citing the
Fourth Geneva Convention which explicitly prohibits coercing civilians into
providing intelligence information.
The report includes 11 of some 30 sworn testimonies taken in recent months
which describe security agents interrogating patients and appearing to make
their passage from Gaza into Israel conditional on their working as
The patients describe being led to underground rooms at the Erez pedestrian
crossing, where they are questioned for hours about neighbours and
"You have cancer, and it will soon spread to your brain, as long as you
don't help us," security agents told one man, according to testimony
provided to Physicians for Human Rights and AFP on condition of anonymity.
After around eight hours of interrogation, he was given permission to enter
but by then had missed his appointment at an Israeli hospital. He had to
reschedule and was not allowed to leave until two months later.
Another man, a farmer who had been wounded by a tank shell in 2006 and
given emergency treatment in Israel, was asked similar questions in January
when he received a permit to return to the hospital for a follow-up
"They wanted information about the area where I'm from, about my relatives
and neighbours. They said if I did not give them the information they would
not let me leave," he told AFP. He was later sent back to Gaza.
"It is no less than torture, what the Shabak (GSS) is doing at Erez
crossing," Dr Ruchama Marton, the founder of PHR-Israel said.
The rights group documented cases in which patients were summoned for
questioning or to receive exit permits only to be jailed in Israel, and
others in which patients did not come to the crossing for fear of being
Israel has sealed the impoverished territory of 1.5 million people off from
all but vital humanitarian aid since Hamas -- considered a terrorist group
by Israel and the West -- took power there last year.
Israel says it allows patients in need of emergency care to exit quickly,
but rights groups say the blockade has gutted local medical facilities,
forcing growing numbers of residents to seek advanced care abroad.
Meanwhile the number of patients denied entry permits has increased, from
10 percent in the first half of 2007 to 35 percent in the first half of
2008, according to PHR-Israel, which assists nearly all those who are
The World Health Organisation said in April that between October 1 and
March 2, 32 patients died in Gaza after the permits they requested were
delayed or refused.
Defence Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror denied the new report's allegations.
"Everybody that comes into Israel, we have to question them about the
reason they are coming, especially if they are in a terror organisation,"
he told AFP.
"These people are not going to assist us, because the moment they come back
to Gaza they are already suspected of being collaborators," he added. "We
do not waste time and effort on people who cannot help us."
But Miri Weingarten, a spokeswoman for PHR-Israel, says many of those who
are interrogated have already received exit permits from Israel.
"We don't question that Israel has to protect itself and that maybe it
needs to find out something about a person who wants to enter. Our problem
is that they are questioning (patients) about other people," she told AFP.
"You are not allowed to use civilians as part of the conflict."
Dror is less sympathetic. "Hamas took over. They should take care of these