At least 79 health personnel have been injured and 20 ambulances damaged since the beginning of the “Great Return March” along the Gaza-Israel border. Since the protests began on March 30, Israeli forces had killed more than 60 Palestinians in the coastal enclave. More than 2,000 people were wounded, including at least 1,359 wounded with live ammunition. Due to mass injuries, the Ministry of Health in Gaza was obliged to postpone 4,000 surgeries.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have deliberately targeted medics. On 6 April 2018, Abdel-Razaa Abu’Athra, a 35-year-old volunteer paramedic with the Palestinian Red Cross Society (PRCS), was shot in the leg close to the border fence while attending to protestors rendered unconscious from gas inhalation. On 9 April, Imad Al Bhaisi, a 34-year-old paramedic at PRCS, was also shot in the leg while rescuing wounded demonstrators. On 15 May, IDF shot Tarek Loubani, a 37-year-old doctor, in the legs. Musa Abuhassanin, a 36-year old paramedic, was killed while providing medical assistance to protestors and another 18 were wounded that day. Dr. Loubani, who was wearing a green surgeon’s outfit said, “Snipers don’t reach me because of mistakes. I did everything right. We were all huddled. We were high visibility.” According to B’Tselem, encampments with field clinics set up 400 to 600 meters away from the fence have been teargased despite the distance, resulting in a minimum of 1,800 injuries. Furthermore, Israeli authorities prevented a medical delegation from the Ministry of Health in the West Bank from entering the Gaza Strip, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights reported on 12 May. The team sought to assist with the provision of medical treatment to those injured in the protests.
Attacks on health workers and transport is a violation of the non-interference tenet of medical impartiality, forbidding actions or policies by state or non-state actors that limit in any way access to or delivery of medical services in times of conflict and civil unrest. Israel and international legal bodies must carry out a full and impartial investigation into the targeting of medics and civilian protestors.
During a UN Security Council emergency meeting, Secretary-General António Guterres called on all parties to avoid acts of violence that would lead to more casualties and urged for an independent investigation. Similarly, B’Tselem urged Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to open fire at demonstrators. Furthermore, a petition advanced by Israeli human rights groups to Israel’s High Court of Justice demanded that it order the state of Israel to revoke the rules of engagement giving IDF soldiers permission to shoot demonstrators that pose no danger to human life.
On 18 May, 2018, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted in favor of a resolution to probe the deadly shootings of protesters by Israeli forces. Investigators must “investigate all alleged violations and abuses … in the context of the military assaults on large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018,” the resolution said. The commission of inquiry will be asked to produce a final report next March.