Teenager’s death fuels Palestinian Authority corruption charges | News from the occupied West Bank

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – The death of a 16-year-old cancer patient from the besieged Gaza Strip after being refused admission to a hospital in the occupied West Bank has revived accusations of ‘favouritism’ and mismanagement against the Palestinian Authority (PA ).

Saleem Nawati was transferred to the West Bank at the end of December to receive treatment there as there is no specialized cancer treatment available in the Gaza Strip. The health system in the enclave of two million people is on the verge of collapse due to a 15-year Israeli blockade.

Nawati was diagnosed with leukemia, a blood cancer, in November, but like all other cancer patients in the besieged enclave, he had to wait weeks to get an Israeli medical permit to travel to the West Bank to get himself. get treated. Palestinians in Gaza have to wait weeks or even months for an Israeli permit to travel outside for health care, business or higher education.

Saleem arrived with his uncle in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 26 after successfully obtaining the Israeli permit. But An-Najah National University Hospital in Nablus refused to admit him citing a dispute with the government over unpaid hospital bills.

Public hospitals in the West Bank have no specialized cancer treatment, so the PA, which governs the occupied territory, incurs high bills from private hospitals or transferring patients to Israel, Jordan or Egypt .

No hospital in the West Bank agreed to receive him, citing either financial reasons or lack of necessary treatment, Saleem’s family told Al Jazeera.

On January 9, Saleem died at the Ministry of Health office in Ramallah while waiting with his uncle, Jamal, in a hospital bed. His death was announced shortly after an ambulance escorted his body from the ministry’s offices.

‘Am I going to die?’

“Am I going to die,” Jamal recalled, saying his nephew when he heard a hospital staff member say he was no longer admitting government-referred cancer patients.

Jamal told Al Jazeera the family was unaware that Saleem’s condition was so serious at the time. “Saleem’s parents are still in shock,” he said.

The family believe Saleem’s death could have been avoided had they had a better relationship with PA officials, accusing the government of favoritism in the referral of patients.

“When Saleem went to the hospital they refused to admit him, saying the PA hadn’t paid his debts, but three other people were admitted – I’m sure they had better connections and managed to get in,” said Mohannad Nawati, Saleem’s brother. , told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera has contacted the Ministry of Health but received no response up to the time of publication. We will update the article if we receive a response.

On January 12, the ministry formed a committee to investigate Saleem’s death.

At a press conference after the inquest was completed, the committee called the teenager’s death a “moral and human failure”, saying not all parties involved acted in time. On January 22, the ministry announced the transfer of the case to the prosecution “to complete the legal proceedings” against those responsible.

A member of the inquiry committee confirmed that a hospital employee told the Nawatis that the hospital was not admitting new patients transferred by the government.

“Where is the hospital?” »

Saleem’s death reminded people of the PA’s six-year-old plans to build a Khaled Al-Hassan cancer hospital in the town of Surda near Ramallah, which never materialized.

Many have shared photos of the proposed building on social media with a hashtag asking “Where is the hospital?”.

Businessmen and philanthropists have donated around $10 million to build it, but the site for the proposed hospital stands as empty, hollowed-out land. Plans for the 15-storey building with more than 200 beds have been repeatedly changed and the public has been kept in the dark, campaigners say.

On January 14, the Ministry of Health announced that the project had been frozen due to lack of funds.

“We started with the first phase, but we didn’t have enough donations to cover the construction cost of $160 million,” Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said days later, and that the donations allocated to the hospital were placed in a separate bank account. The AP, however, provided no evidence that the money was kept in a bank.

He added that President Mahmoud Abbas has recently encouraged investment in cancer wards in public and private hospitals in the West Bank, where the health infrastructure is overflowing due to decades of Israeli occupation.

Ramallah-based Bisan Research and Development Center director Ubai Aboudi said mismanagement is worse than financial corruption.

“A whole project has stopped. If you spend a huge amount of money on a project and you don’t have the cash, then who has benefited from that money,” he told Al Jazeera.

The Palestinian Authority is in deep financial difficulty and has been unable to pay the salaries of civil servants in full.

Shtayyeh, the PA prime minister, urged President Abbas to launch an investigation into what happened regarding the cancer hospital.

But activists and NGOs who have worked to advance the culture of transparency for decades say they don’t see individuals held accountable.

High corruption

Over 60% of Palestinians believe corruption is high in PA institutions and has increased in 2021, according to a December 2021 poll (PDF) by the Accountability and Integrity Coalition-AMAN , based in Ramallah, which sampled 1,320 people over the age of 18.

A quarter of respondents said they believe the most common crime of corruption is nepotism followed by embezzlement of public funds at 23%.

The Palestinian public is increasingly dissatisfied. A protest against PA corruption and authoritarianism gained momentum last year when things escalated following the beating to death of outspoken political activist Nizar Banat during his arrest by PA security forces.

Jihad Abdo, the leader of anti-corruption movement Enough is Enough, told Al Jazeera: “Whenever we hear about money or public resources, we automatically think there is corruption involved.”

Azmi Shuabi, AMAN’s commissioner for anti-corruption, said the Palestinian Authority has taken steps to consolidate its power, which has led to an increased lack of transparency and accountability in its public relations.

“There is a weak rule of law,” he told Al Jazeera. “The president’s office has gained more authority. This has led to more decisions that benefit some officials in power circles around the president.

The internal Palestinian split between the two main political parties, Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, has frozen the functioning of the PA parliament since 2007. To address this loophole in the West Bank, President Abbas enacted laws into decrees.

While many disapprove of the PA’s decisions, most are afraid to speak out. The AMAN report said many people fear retaliation despite whistleblower protections under anti-corruption laws, and that two-thirds of people in the West Bank are dissatisfied with the PA’s anti-corruption institutions and question question their independence.

Marwa Farah, who worked as the acting office manager of the Chief Secretary of the Supreme Court, said she was unprotected and had paid the price for reporting allegations of corruption in her workplace.

“After testifying before the anti-corruption commission, my identity was revealed to my employer,” Farah told Al Jazeera.

She was fired from her job two years ago at the Supreme Court.

Al Jazeera contacted the Palestinian anti-corruption commission about Marwa’s case for comment, but did not receive a response.

Shuabi, head of Aman, explained that President Abbas hires the head of the anti-corruption commission and the head of the judicial council, which makes it difficult to ensure their independence from the PA.

The main challenge remains the lack of political will to fight corruption, says Shuabi.

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