Throughout the occupied West Bank, Israeli officers have reportedly interfered with the work of medical teams by obstructing their access to the injured, and some patients died as a result. Israeli forces have also attacked medics and ambulances.
In 2016, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) documented 26 assaults on medics and ambulance teams and 46 attacks on ambulances. PRCS also reported 44 cases in which Israeli forces delayed ambulances and 26 cases in which they prevented them from reaching patients. Such incidents are a violation of the principle of noninterference of medical impartiality, prohibiting any form of temporary obstruction to medical services.
Attacks on medics and ambulances
In 2016, PRCS documented 13 assaults on medics and ambulances in the city of Al-Bireh in central West Bank. In some cases, medics were kept waiting for more than two hours, and were not allowed to reach the injured or offer medical assistance. In six of these assaults, Israeli forces fired live bullets and stun grenades at ambulances, causing damages to the vehicles and the equipment.
Similar attacks have also been reported in other cities in the West Bank, such as Al-Khalil, Ariha, Nablus, and Qalqilya.
The Israeli government has done little to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. In August 2016, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) filed 11 complaints documenting cases of attacks on health care teams. Israel’s Police Investigation Unit declined to investigate 9 of those cases, while the remaining two cases are pending at the time of writing. The other cases are still pending.
Denying the injured access to medical assistance
On 24 March 2016, 21-year-old Abed al-Fatah a-Sharif was executed by an Israeli soldier as he lied injured on the ground. Sharif and Ramzi al-Qasrawi were shot after stabbing an Israeli soldier. Ramzi was dead on the spot. None of the medics or soldiers present at the scene gave Sharif first aid. A few minutes later, Sharif was shot in the head at a close range by one of the soldiers. On 18 April, the soldier who shot ‘Abd al-Fatah a-Sharif was indicted on charges of manslaughter and misconduct, and on 21 February 2017 he was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In 2017, Israeli forces deliberately obstructed access to urgent health care for six Palestinians.
On 25 January, Israeli soldiers prevented medics from providing assistance to Hussein Salem Abu Ghosh. Hussein, 24, was shot by the soldiers after he reportedly tried to ram them and Israeli settlers with his car, east of Ramallah. The soldiers fired several live rounds at the car, before closing the area. As a result, Hussein bled to death.
On 22 May, Israeli forces prevented medics from reaching 15-year-old Raed Ahmad ‘Issa Al-Radaydeh, who was left to bleed near the side of the checkpoint for approximately 40 minutes after being shot by Israeli forces. Raed allegedly attempted to stab soldiers stationed at the Container checkpoint near Al-Ubeidiya in the West Bank.
Israeli soldiers prevented Palestinian Red Crescent medics from reaching Muhammad Hussein Ahmad Tnouh, 26, and Abdallah Ali Mahmoud Taqatqa, 24, who were shot on July 20 and 28 respectively in Bethlehem. Both bled to death.
On 31 October, Israeli soldiers prevented medics from providing care to Muhammad Moussa, 26, who was injured after soldiers “accidently fired” at his car while he was driving with his sister. Muhammad was injured in his back. When the PRCS ambulance arrived ten minutes later, soldiers ordered the medics to step away as they were providing him with urgent medical assistance. Muhammad was later taken to Beilinson hospital in Tel Aviv where he was pronounced dead.
On 1 June, Nuf Uqab Abd All Jabbar Infiaat, 16, was shot by an Israeli soldier at the entrance of the Mevo Dothan settlement in the West Bank. In a video footage released by AJ+, settlers are seen insulting the young Palestinian as she lays wounded on the ground. This happened on the watch of Israeli soldiers who did not attempt to stop the settlers, provide first aid or call an ambulance. The following day, Nuf succumbed to her wounds.
Violations of International Law
In addition to violating the principle of medical impartiality, attacking medics and obstructing access to health care for the injured violate international law.
In its Advisory Opinion in the case concerning the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (2014), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s principal judicial body, affirmed the occupation of the Palestinian territory, hence the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In addition, UN Security Council resolution 471 reaffirmed the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.
Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, states that “Medical personnel of all categories shall be allowed to carry out their duties.” Israel’s actions run contrary to the terms of the article. Obstructing access to urgent care for the injured is a violation of common Article 3which states that “The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.”
According to the ICJ, an occupying power remains responsible for fulfilling its obligations stemming from human rights conventions in the occupied territory, even if occupying illegally. Further, the European Commission of Human Rights affirmed that human rights law applies during occupation.
Further, Article 12 of the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, to which Israel is a signatory, holds Israel responsible to recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
By obstructing access to health care and attacking medical personnel, Israel is violating the international humanitarian law and the international human rights law, and has failed to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. The government of Israel must fulfill its duties as the occupying power in the West Bank by ensuring Palestinians are not denied their right to adequate health, including access to medical services. In addition, Israeli authorities must hold those responsible for violations and attacks on medical vehicles and medical personnel accountable for their actions.