“I have never seen anything like what happened … Never in all my years have I seen this many health workers and facilities targeted in this way.”
— Dr. Mo’awiah Hassanin, the director of the Emergency and Ambulance department in the Ministry of Health in Gaza. [Under attack: how medics died trying to help Gaza’s casualties]
Tuesday April 7 was World Health Day, an annual recognition of global health issues, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In honour of the day, Palestinians in Gaza hosted a short-documentary competition highlighting health issues Gazans face, with specific attention to medical care in Gaza during attacks or emergencies. The 2009 theme of the WHO is “Save lives: Making hospitals safe in emergencies”. This seems like hindsight, after Gaza endured Israel’s 3 week war in which Israeli forces actively targeted over 70 hospitals and medical clinics, along with 10s of ambulances damaged or destroyed.
16 medics were killed while in the line of duty, and another 36 medical workers, including ambulance drivers, paramedics, doctors and volunteer medical workers were injured. Israeli forces targeted the medics under the pretext of security reasons, an excuse which has been repeatedly contradicted by the testimonies of medical and emergency workers, as well as patients themselves.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, among others, also contest the official Israeli authority version of targeted attacks. The latter two groups recently released an in-depth report listing Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law, including the crimes of preventing medical teams from reaching those needing aid, and of shooting on the medical and emergency workers.
A Palestinian film-maker, decided to highlight such Israeli attacks. His documentary, “One of…” took first prize in the competition held in Gaza’s burnt-out al Quds hospital, one of the hospitals greatly-damaged after repeated Israeli shelling, including with white phosphorous. On display on the 2nd floor of al Quds are a number of vivid photographs testifying to the blaze and Israel’s attacks. Artwork in the shelled and charred cultural centre further depicts life under, and the aftermath of, Israel’s war on Gaza. [see: Art in the Ruins]
As his theme, he chose the sniper-shooting of Hassan al Attal, a paramedic whose ambulance I was riding in at the time. The event occurred on January 7th, the first day when Israel declared a ‘cease-fire’ period (during which, in theory, Palestinians could move, buy groceries, leave their homes without fear of attack. In reality, these ‘ceasefire’ periods meant nothing, and many were injured and killed by the IOF during these ‘ceasefires’).
It was around 1:30 pm at Dawwar Zimmo, eastern Jabliya, on the edge of the Ezbet Abed Rabbo neighbourhood which would become known for the utter destruction and havoc wreaked on the homes and people of the district. Al Attal and a voluteer medic, Jamal, were attempting to retrieve the body of man who’d been shot by Israeli snipers. The two had left the clearly-marked 101 ambulance, and approached the corpse lying in the middle of the street. They wore their PRCS uniforms -Hassan’s was bright red with reflective tape, Jamal’s bright orange and white, also with reflective tape -and approached slowly, hands free of all but a stretched to take away the body.
Documentary film-maker, Alberto Arce and I were ordered to stay inside the ambulance instead of getting out to accompany the medics as we usually did. Alberto filmed from within, shooting the footage which became the short film. As they carried the corpse away, shooting erupted, very clear shooting aimed at the 2 medics, which I’ve come to know well and recognize as the crack of a sniper’s shots.
Carrying the body still further, the two medics finally dropped it and ran, fleeing for their lives and disappearing from my sight. Fifteen or more seconds later, they reappeared, piling into the ambulance. Hassan had been shot in the thigh.
Like Arafa Abd el Dayem, martyred days before when Israeli soldiers fired a dart bomb containing 1000s of lethal metal darts at his ambulance, shredding his internal organs, these medics are all too aware of, all too familiar with, the mortal risks of their work in the face of the Israeli army with, apparently, no regard for the Geneva Conventions. Under the Conventions, medics are obliged safe passage to the injured and the dead, without fire from the invading army.
The film highlights a systematic policy of targeting medical and emergency workers, an illegal policy long-in-place in both Gaza and the West Bank before Israel’s latest war on Gaza. It is a policy which continues even after the ‘cease-fire’.
Making hospitals safe in emergencies is not just about saving the lives of people harmed during a disaster, but ensuring the continuation of routine health care during and after a crisis. [WHO on world health day]
Israeli attacks on medical workers occur on a regular basis, not only during invasions. The latest incident, on April 4th, occurred when an ambulance was shot at while trying to reach 2 injured resistance fighters who later died after being prevented access to medical care, again in contravention to the Geneva Conventions.
One Of poses the question: how would you feel if your loved one died because ambulances were prevented from reaching the wounded.
“Preventing care constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war. Article 17 of the fourth Geneva convention clearly states that “the parties to the conflict shall endeavour to conclude local agreements for the removal from besieged or encircled areas, of wounded, sick, infirm, and aged persons, and for the passage of ministers of all religions, medical personnel and medical equipment on their way to such areas”. The fourth convention also says hospitals should “at all time be respected and protected” by parties at war.”
FROM “they shot hassan“: