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Nima Abu Garrara, mother to months-old twins. (CNN via CNN Newsource)

Israeli court halts removal of Palestinians from hospitals

March 20, 2024

By Jeremy Diamond, Kareem Khadder, Mick Krever and Abeer Salman, CNN

Jerusalem (CNN) — Israel’s Supreme Court has temporarily halted a government plan to send a group of Palestinian patients being treated in East Jerusalem and Tel Aviv hospitals back to Gaza.

The decision follows a petition by the Israeli non-profit organization Physicians for Human Rights Israel, which decided to take action following a CNN report on the Palestinian hospital patients.

“Returning residents to Gaza during a military conflict and a humanitarian crisis is against international law and poses a deliberate risk to innocent lives,” the organization’s spokesperson Ran Yaron said Wednesday. “All the more so when it concerns patients who may face a death sentence due to insanitary conditions and hunger, along with the unlikely availability of medical care.”

Following the group’s appeal, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction to prevent the Israeli government from sending around two dozen Palestinian patients and their companions back to Gaza.

The Palestinians were set to be bussed to Gaza early Thursday morning.However, after the temporary court injunction, the Israeli government delayed that until at least Monday, hospital officials told CNN.

Dr. Fadi Atrash, CEO of Augusta Victoria Hospital, which is treating Gazan cancer patients, and another hospital official confirmed the delay to CNN.

Among the Palestinians, most of whom were granted access to Jerusalem hospitals by Israeli authorities before October 7, are five newborn babies and their mothers who have been living at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem and cancer patients now in remission who were being treated at Augusta Victoria Hospital, according to hospital officials and humanitarian officials. A handful of the Palestinian patients the Israeli government wants to send back to Gaza are also being treated at Tel HaShomer Hospital in the Tel Aviv suburbs, the officials said.

Three mothers whom CNN spoke to in the hospital expressed conflicting emotions about returning to Gaza – with a desire to be reunited with family and other children, but also the instinct to protect their newborns by staying in Jerusalem.

“I might go back and then they invade Rafah,” Nima Abu Garrara, mother to months-old twins, said of the Israeli military. “I’ll be the one responsible for anything that harms them. I was dying when I came here and stayed with them here to protect them.”

Physicians for Human Rights Israel said the “fact that the security officials refuse to convey such a directive in writing indicates that they themselves are aware that it is clearly illegal and are avoiding responsibility.”

Hospital officials say they have largely been communicating by phone with COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), the Israeli defense ministry body responsible for Palestinian affairs, which is coordinating the departure.

Dr. Atrash told CNNon Sunday that he had for some time resisted Israeli government demands to provide a list of Palestinians who no longer required in-patient treatment.

“It’s not our call, at the end of the day,” he said. “And this is really frustrating. We [have not been] able to help people in Gaza since the beginning of the war. As doctors, this is our daily feeling, that we are not able to do anything.”

In response to a CNN inquiry, COGAT confirmed that Palestinians from Gaza who “are not in need of further medical care” are being sent back to Gaza and that COGAT would coordinate the return with international aid organizations.

“In cases where there is a need for further medical treatment, COGAT arranges their stay with the hospitals to safeguard their health,” the agency said.

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