Under attack: how medics died trying to help Gaza's
Israeli military says
medical staff 'take the risk upon
guardian.co.uk Monday 23 March
Medical staff and ambulance drivers who attempted to assist
casualties of the Israeli invasion of Gaza have told the Guardian
that they were attacked by Israeli forces while trying to carry out
The offensive left 16 medics dead. Nearly all of them were killed
by Israeli fire while trying to save lives, and many more were
wounded. According to the World Health Organisation, more than half
of Gaza's 27 hospitals were damaged by Israeli bombs. Two clinics
were completely destroyed and 44 others received damage.
Dr Moawa Hassenein, the head of Gaza's Red Crescent ambulance
teams, said it was the worst assault he had seen on ambulance
workers: "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."
In a report released yesterday, Physicians for Human Rights Israel
said there was "certainty" that Israel had violated international
humanitarian law, with attacks on medics, damage to medical
buildings, indiscriminate attacks on civilians and delays in
medical treatment for the injured.
"We have noticed a stark decline in IDF [Israeli Defence Forces]
morals concerning the Palestinian population of Gaza, which in
reality amounts to a contempt for Palestinian lives," said Dani
Filc, the chairman of the pressure group. On one day – 4 January –
four medics were killed in two separate incidents.
The first saw paramedics Khaled Abu Saada and Arafa Abdel Daym hit
by an Israeli tank shell packed with 8,000 flechettes ‑ dart-like
nails ‑ as they moved one of three wounded civilians into their
The patient died instantly; the paramedic died on the way to
Saada was thrown to the ground with three flechettes in the back of
his head. "I picked myself up and found Arafa kneeling down with
his hands up in the air and praying to God, his body was riddled
with darts," he said. "The patient was in pieces, his head was
missing. I was hysterical."
In the second incident, two ambulances called out to rescue injured
men from a field in the Tel al Hawa district of Gaza City were hit
by Israeli helicopter fire.
Three medics and a 12-year-old boy, Omar, who was guiding them,
The Geneva convention explicitly forbids the targeting of medics or
medical facilities. "Medical personnel exclusively engaged in the
search for, or the collection, transport or treatment of, the
wounded or sick shall be respected and protected in all
circumstances," it says.
In a statement, the IDF said: "The IDF does not target medics or
other medical staff. As a part of their training, IDF soldiers
receive instructions on identifying and avoiding injury to medical
staff in the battlefield.
"However, in light of the difficult reality of warfare in the Gaza
Strip carried out in urban and densely populated areas, medics who
operate in the area take the risk upon themselves."
The International Committee of the Red Cross went further than ever
before in criticising Israel's attacks on medical staff and
facilities during the 23-day Israeli operation.
In one incident, a Red Cross-led convoy of 13 ambulances carrying
wounded to Egypt was fired on, despite Israeli clearance for the
The convoy was forced to turn back and two of the wounded died
after being unable to receive treatment.
Ambulance workers have described more than 30 incidents in which
they were prevented from reaching the injured.
Medics have also said their ambulances were used as human shields
by the Israeli army. Ambulance driver Hassan Kalhout described one
such ordeal: "They were firing mortars and phosphorus bombs at the
houses. They placed our vehicles in front of them while they
continued to fire. They made us stay in the ambulances and used us
as cover as they fired on civilians."
The Israeli military declined to comment directly on why more than
half of Gaza's hospitals were damaged by Israeli bombing but told
the Guardian "an extensive post-invasion investigation" was under
way and that it was looking into allegations that hospitals were
targeted during the offensive.
Some Israeli officials have said that Palestinian fighters were
either treated in these hospitals or took shelter in them.
What the Geneva convention says
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.