Al Mezan Center for Human Rights notes with deep concern the continuous attacks by Israeli forces on unarmed protesters at the “Great Return March” demonstrations along the border fence of the Gaza Strip. Through the past four weeks of protests, a pattern of attacks on medical staff and equipment, including patient care units, in the areas of demonstration has been persistent. Israeli forces use live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear-gas grenades in these attacks, resulting in dozens of casualties among medics and damage of medical equipment. Ambulance access to casualties is also hindered.
The documentation conducted by Al Mezan shows that, since the beginning of the “Great Return March” on 30 March 2018, Israeli forces located across the borders of Gaza have opened fire at medical staff, field-based medical care units, and ambulances, which are clearly marked as medical facilities. As a result, 79 medics have been injured, including five by live fire. Twenty ambulances have also been damaged due to shooting by Israeli forces.
Abdel-Razaq Abu ‘Athra, 35-year old paramedic volunteering with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), provided the following testimony to Al Mezan: “At about 2:30pm on Friday, 6 April 2018, I was working in eastern Rafah city to transfer injured demonstrators. In Jakar street close to the border fence, colleagues and I were providing care to those who passed out due to gas inhalation. We transferred some of them to ambulances. Once I finished and got into the ambulance, my right leg was in pain and felt burning. I placed my hand at the place of pain, the back of my right knee, and there was a heavy bleeding. I pressed hard at the wound, and told my colleague, Mousa Obaid, who was driving the ambulance, that I had been injured and could not treat those injured. He drove fast to the field clinic, and I was then referred to Al Najjar hospital, where doctors took out the shrapnel from my leg. Finally, I was referred to the Red Crescent Hospital in Khan Younis.”
Imad Al Bhaisi, 34-year old paramedic working for PRCS, provided a similar account: “At about 5:15pm on Monday, 9 April 2018, I was inside an ambulance in the west of Jakar street in eastern Al Burij refugee camp, trying to evacuate wounded demonstrators. I suddenly heard sound of shooting and I felt much pain in my right leg. One of my colleagues rushed to provide first aid, after which I was taken to Al Aqsa hospital in Deir Al Balah. I was then referred to Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City, where doctors told me I needed a vascular surgery because of vein cuts in my right leg.”
Israeli forces’ attacks Palestinian medical staff in Gaza only compounds the dire reality of the health sector, defined by lack of resources. PRCS stated that Israeli authorities has prevented the entry of personal safety equipment, including respirators, which would grow the risk faced by medical workers serving the injured and wounded—a risk already exaggerated by Israeli forces’ deployment heavy fire and tear gas.
In areas close to the border fence, communications are disrupted to a low quality, which increase the difficulty of coordinating safe and timely evacuation of casualties—a difficulty already posed by rough terrains and unpaved roads.
Al Mezan expresses its condemnation of the frequent targeting of medical teams and ambulances despite their professional adherence to impartiality and neutrality. Attacks on medical workers occurred during daytime, when visibility of the clear signs of medical missions cannot be confused.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to condemn the killing and injury of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators as violations of international human rights law and of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilians. Attacks on medics, clinics and ambulances which puts at risk the safety of medics as well as patients must stop.
The international community must take concrete steps to stop attacks on Palestinian unarmed protestors and on medics and ensure that Israel abides by the obligations under international law. Independent, credible and prompt investigations must be conducted to identify those behind ordering and/or perpetrating what evidence suggests serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
Al Mezan also calls for international action to secure the necessary assistance to support the health sector in the Gaza Strip. International community must ensure that Palestinians injured in protests as well as patients who cannot be treated in Gaza have timely and unimpeded access to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and abroad.