On this day [4 January] one year ago, 4 Palestinian paramedics were assassinated by Israeli forces. By the end of the Israeli massacre of Gaza, 16 emergency workers had been killed by Israeli soldiers, all while performing their duties, all in contravention of international law and the Geneva Conventions. Another 57 were injured by Israeli attacks. At least 16 ambulances were damaged with at least nine completely destroyed.
*Arafa Abd El Dayem, photo unknown
Arafa Abd El Dayem was killed in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza, as he and other paramedics and emergency workers answered the call of civilians targeted by an Israeli missile strike. Although wearing their universally identifiable medic uniforms and with clearly marked ambulances, Israeli tanks fired a flechette bomb at the group of rescuers and injured civilians. Arafa died from wounds sustained by the dart bomb, which tore into his internal organs.
On the same day, Israeli forces in Tel el Hawa, Gaza city, attacked paramedics as they tried to reached injured.
Anas Fadhel Na’im, Yaser Kamal Shbeir, and Raf’at Abd al-‘Al – were killed in Gaza City as they walked through a small field on their way to rescue two wounded men in a nearby orchard. A 12-year-old boy, Omar Ahmad al-Barade’e, who was standing near his home indicating to the paramedics the place where the wounded were, was also killed in the same strike.
The remains of the missile that killed the three paramedics and the child read “guided missile, surface attack”, with the USA mentioned as the weapon’s country of provenance. The bodies of the four killed in the missile strike could not be removed for two days as the ambulance crews who tried to approach the site again came under fire from Israeli forces.
Under the Geneva Conventions, medical personnel searching, collecting, transporting or treating the wounded should be protected and respected in all circumstances. Common Article 3 of the Conventions says that the wounded should be collected and cared for, including combatants who are hors de combat. These provisions of international law have not been respected during the conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli attacks on and harassment of paramedics and emergency workers is not a new trend.
Defend the Rescuers states:
In the past nine years – since the outbreak of the second intifada or ‘uprising’ in September 2000 – Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have killed at least 56 medical rescuers including paramedics, drivers, doctors and volunteers. This is an average of one rescuer every two months.
At least 500 medical rescuers have been injured in the same period – an average of five per month.
Israeli newspaper ‘Haaretz’ reported Israeli soldiers were allegedly ordered to ‘open fire also upon rescue’ as part of their rules of engagement
Between September 29, 2000, and June 27, 2003, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) recorded 255 Israeli attacks on ambulances. 118 PRCS ambulances were damaged. Of these, 28 were beyond repair.
In the first three months of 2009 alone, 101 violations were recorded including 11 cases of direct gunfire at ambulance crews working in Gaza and Nil’in in the West Bank.
There have been at least 2,423 recorded cases of delay and denial of access to patients since 2000.
220 were recorded in the first three months of 2009 alone including 132 during Israel’s 22-day January offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Arrests and Detentions
Since 2000 at least 144 Emergency Medical Team members have been arrested while on duty– including 64 between September 2000 and August 2002.
Of these, a total of 49 were beaten, 15 were tortured, six were used as human shields and six required hospitalisation.
I remember the personalities behind the faces, remember my own experience of seeing a medic being taken hostage and used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers in Nablus, remember the anguish of families during the last Israeli war on Gaza when their loved ones died after Israeli soldiers prevented ambulances from reaching them.
I remember when Hassan al Attal was shot (though it could have been his volunteer aide Jamal, or the driver of the ambulance…) as he carried the body of a martyr until that point unretrieved. We thought it was safe, comparatively, given the circumstances: it was an Israeli-declared cease-fire during their war on Gaza; Hassan was quite visibly a medic, as was Jamal… and there were two internationals in sight of the snipers.
And I remember Arafa’s smile, sense of humour, integrity.