When Hassan and Jamal approached a body in the road, it was during the first day of Israeli-declared “cease-fire hours”, supposed humanitarian hours when civilians were to be allowed to move about without fear of Israeli bombing, shelling or shooting.
Hassan, a Palestinian Red Crescent medic, was uniformed, as was Jamal a volunteer with the Red Crescent. The ambulance I was in was flashing its lights and siren. The stretcher the two men carried was flat, blood-stained from other martyrs, but quite obviously just a stretcher. And when Hassan and Jamal walked from the Dawar Zimmo intersection of eastern Jabaliya towards our ambulance, sides to their sniper predator, their hands were full with the dead body they carried.
At this point, walking away from wherever the sniper was huddled (typically 2nd or 3rd floors of homes whose wall has been bored with sniper firing holes), the Israeli soldier began shooting at them, and us. Hassan and Jamal ran for it, body and all, until bringing the body back was impossible. Dropping it, they stumbled and ran for their lives.
This was during “cease-fire” hours. They were medics. Medics don’t need ceasefire hours to work, they are supposed to be protected under international law which dictates that medics attend those in need as needed.
Hassan thankfully wasn’t assassinated like Arafa or 15 other medics during Israel’s 23 days of bombing, shelling, and terrorizing the Palestinians of Gaza. Four were killed in one day alone. Another 57 were injured. At least 16 ambulances were damaged with at least nine completely destroyed.
But he did get a nasty flesh wound, the bullet sailed through his thigh.
Noble as the rest of the medics, Hassan was back on his legs and at work after less than a week.
According to statistics from the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health and the PRCS, since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have killed at least 56 medical rescuers, including paramedics, drivers, doctors and volunteers –an average of one rescuer every two months – and have injured another at least 500 medical rescuers.
Since 2000 at least 144 Emergency Medical Team members have been arrested while on duty– including 64 between September 2000 and August 2002.
On January 7, as I and a Spanish human rights advocate and documentary film-maker, Alberto Arce, accompanied Palestinian medics to retrieve the body of a man shot earlier by invading Israeli forces, we were also shot at as the medics carried the body towards the ambulance. It was in Dawwar Zimmo, eastern Jabaliya, near the area which has been occupied by Israeli soldiers since the land invasion began. It’s an area where 10s are thought to have been seriously injured by bombing and shooting from the Israeli army, and where many, many more will lie dead, uncollected for days, or weeks, out of reach of the medics whose duty is to retrieve them.
Hassan al-Attal and Jamal had gotten out of the ambulance, a 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. Arce filmed as the medics picked up the dead man, put him on the stretcher and began the retreat towards the ambulance. Arce was still filming when the shots cracked out, rapidly but evidently a targeted sniper’s shot, not a machine gun. Incredibly, Hassan and Jamal continued to try to evacuate the body, running with the dead man, before finally dropping the stretched and fleeing for their lives.
It was about 1:30 pm, it was the first day of Israel’s self-declared “cease-fire” and the sniper was aiming at the medical personnel. The ambulance’s siren was still screaming, the driver had been moving quickly away from the sniper, to avoid further hits on us or himself, and we were frantically scouring to see Hassan and Jamal. In the days prior to this attack, 7 medics had been killed since the start of Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza’s population. Tens more had been injured, and Hassan was to join their ranks. A sniper’s bullet caught his thigh, and as he scrambled into the ambulance, the blood seeping through his pants alerted us to his injury.
These medics are all too aware of, many all too familiar with, the mortal risks of their job in the face of invading Israeli soldiers with, apparently, no regard for the Geneva Conventions which should allow and oblige medics to reach the injured and the dead, without fire from the invading army.
It was frightening. I thought we’d lost them both, and they are both young, wonderful men doing a job worthy of medals. The 10-15 seconds it took before Hassan and Jamal could jump into the ambulance and pull down its back door were a painfully long stretch, during which I’d feared the worst. As we pulled away, a final bullet caught the back door of the ambulance.
Medics worked quickly on Hassan’s thigh injury: the bullet had penetrated from the inside of his upper left thigh, digging into muscle, and exiting a couple of inches from the entry wound. He was impressively brave about it, though obviously in a great deal of pain.
Arce’s video footage caught the incident, and is testimony to what we’ve seen, what medics have told us they’ve long endured, and what Israeli authorities beligerently continue to deny: Israel is targeting medical personnel, as Israeli forces target journalists, civilians, and these days in Gaza anything that moves. No sanctuary, no safety, no guarantee of medical service.
Lives Destroyed: Series of Personal Testimonies, Reveal How One Year after Operation Cast Lead, Life in Gaza is Not Back to Normal Day 17: Rescuing the Rescuers, Hamouda Towers, Jabalia, North Gaza
Targeted Civilians: A PCHR Report on the Israeli Military Offensive against the Gaza Strip (27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009)’ Destruction of Medical Facilities and Transports pp 92-98
MAP Statement 20 January 2010