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Doctors abandon Gaza hospital on orders of Palestinian Authority

Dozens of doctors employed by the Palestinian Authority have left their posts at one of the largest hospitals in Gaza, reportedly on orders from Ramallah.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

The ongoing Palestinian division has affected the health sector in the coastal enclave, fueling public anger over the ongoing political rivalry between Hamas and Fatah.

Dozens of doctors employed by the Palestinian Authority have left their jobs at Kamal Adwan Hospital, the largest hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, after reportedly receiving orders from the Military Medical Services command in Ramallah to leave their workplaces.

Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip serves over 700,000 people, nearly a third of the population of Gaza.

The doctors’ abrupt withdrawal on July 21 bodes ill for the Gaza health care system. Many health care workers have emigrated in search of a better life as Gaza's security and living conditions have deteriorated.

The Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza issue a statement July 22 denouncing the Military Medical Services for forcing 42 doctors to quit working without reason, calling it a crime against humanity. Many scheduled operations at the hospital have had to be postponed, threatening the health of dozens of patients.

The Palestinian division between Hamas and Fatah has deepened the administrative and geographical separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Since Hamas took control of the Strip in 2007, the health sector has greatly suffered. Many PA employees are still working in Gaza hospitals under the supervision of the Gaza government.

The PA also supplies Gaza with medicine and pays for patients to be treated abroad as needed. All PA-provided services are vulnerable to the political situation between the two parties.

According to Gaza's Health Ministry, there are about 5,600 health care workers in the enclave, including about 600 general practitioners and 350 specialized doctors. The rest work in supportive roles. These numbers are very small compared to the estimated 3,500 patients that are admitted every day.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah denied involvement in instructing the doctors to leave their workplaces. In a July 23 statement, Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said, “No orders were issued to health workers in Gaza to leave medical centers, despite the harassment they face from workers appointed by the Hamas government in Gaza.”

The director of Kamal Adwan Hospital, Ahmed al-Kahlout, told Al-Monitor that several doctors employed by the Ramallah government reported receiving calls and threatstelling them to quit. The doctors said the callers threatened to cut off their salaries for working with a "hostile party" — Hamas — so they had to do as they were told. 

“These doctors are highly experienced and qualified medical personnel," Kahlout added. "No one had been harassed by the hospital administration. Many were heads of departments and hold prestigious positions within the hospital, such as the head and deputy head of the anesthesia department, head of surgery and head of ER, all of whom are very influential in the medical circles.”

He noted that the hospital administration has set up an emergency schedule to continue providing services to patients, while the Gaza Health Ministry is asking human rights institutions to intervene.

Kahlout explained, “The doctors affiliated with the PA work as they please; the hospital administration does not impose any conditions on them. They come to work and leave at will, without anyone interfering with them because the hospital administration wants them to continue to provide their great health services without any obstacles.”

A prominent Fatah source in Gaza told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Doctors affiliated with the Ramallah government are subject to discrimination. The Hamas-affiliated hospital administration has recently promoted doctors based on partisan background regardless of their educational degrees and experience, disregarding the competent PA doctors who provide quality medical services at the hospital. This prompted the Military Medical Services command in the West Bank to ask them to leave.”

Khalil Obeid, an elderly patient being treated at Kamal Adwan Hospital, told Al-Monitor that he had a surgery coming up but his doctors and surgeons left. He is now in constant pain as he waits for his surgery to be rescheduled.

Obeid called on the health authorities to address the situation as soon as possible and keep political disputes separate from humanitarian issues.