Three Palestinian hospitals attacked in less than a month amid global pandemic

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is greatly alarmed by reports that the lives and wellbeing of Palestinian patients and health workers have once again been put in danger as three Palestinian hospitals have come under attack by Israeli forces in the space of under two weeks.

Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq has documented that between 26 December and 4 January three hospitals suffered damage during military attacks carried out by Israeli forces: the Martyr Mohammad al-Durra Children’s Hospital in Gaza, and the Palestine Medical Complex and Thabet Thabet Hospital in the West Bank. These are only the latest incidents in a continuing pattern of violations against Palestinian healthcare. Such attacks compound the heavy strains on healthcare services and personnel as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Below are the cases documented by Al Haq (you can read their original report here):

26 December 2020: al-Durra Children’s Hospital, Gaza City, damaged in airstrike

On 26 December al-Durra Children’s Hospital was damaged during an Israeli airstrike on a nearby site in the civilian-populated al-Tuffah neighbourhood. There were 16 children, including three in intensive care, their carers and around 40 hospital staff in the hospital at the time of the attacks. In addition to the distress caused to the children, their carers and staff, the airstrike also cut the electricity and water supply to the hospital and shattered several windows.

A nearby rehabilitation centre for people with disabilities was also damaged during the airstrike.

27 December 2020: Raid on the Palestine Medical Complex, Ramallah

The next day, the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah was raided by Israeli forces. According to Al Haq, Israeli forces closed and blocked two entrances to the hospital, and fired rubber-coated metal bullets, tear gas canisters and sound bombs in the hospital’s yard as they pursued 10-15 Palestinians who had thrown stones at them, two of whom had come into hospital’s yard.

During the attack, a patient and a health worker were injured by rubber-coated metal bullets. Fida’ Mahmoud Abd al-Qader, a patient in her seventh month of pregnancy, was shot in her left shoulder by Israeli forces as she crossed a bridge connecting the hospital’s buildings. A health worker, Mahmoud Omar Zayed, was also shot in his shoulder, as he tried to empty the yard of patients during the attack. Speaking to Al Haq, Mahmoud described the attack: 

“… I, together with the security employees of the hospital, started to disperse the patients and their companions, who were in the hospital’s outer yards, to inside of the departments and close the section doors so that tear gas would not continue to spread into the hospital. Knowing that the sections near the entrance were mostly allocated for COVID-19 patients, a number of whom were connected with mechanical ventilators, one of our main concerns was to ensure that tear gas does not reach the patients inside the hospital, as well as to ensure people do not get shot by the Israeli occupying soldiers, and to calm the situation in general.

“While I was at the yard dispersing people about fifty meters away from the entrance of the Complex where the soldiers were stationed, I saw the soldiers putting the barrel of their rifles inside the iron gate and firing into the Complex’s yard. I started shouting at the soldiers, in Hebrew, to stop firing at the patients and their companions, and to not fire their bullets at the Complex’s yard. 

“While I was escorting patients, companions, and staff from the yard, a rubber-coated metal bullet, as I assess, went right past me, almost hitting me. After that, I had turned my back to the soldiers and continued what I was doing when a hard object hitting me in my left arm. It was then that I realized that I had been hit by the occupying soldiers.”

A Palestinian ambulance was also damaged and many Palestinians, including patients and health workers, suffered tear gas inhalation.

4 January 2021: Raid on Thabet Thabet Hospital, Tulkarm

Eight days later, Thabet Thabet Hospital in Tulkarm also came under attack. According to Al-Haq, Israeli forces fired four sound bombs inside the hospital, one in the reception and three in the yard, as they pursued Palestinian youth who had thrown stones at them following a raid by Israeli forces on a nearby Palestinian home.

The attack caused extreme distress for the 81 patients at the hospital, including five children, seven patients in intensive care, and 13 women in the maternity ward, their companions, and around 39 hospital staff.

Chronic impunity for attacks against Palestinian healthcare

Despite the protected status of health workers and facilities under international law, a chronic culture of impunity surrounds these attacks in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

In March 2019, the UN independent Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza protests found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers intentionally shot health workers”, calling the oPt “one of the most dangerous places in the world for healthcare workers.” Last year, as the pandemic took hold in Palestine and around the globe, the World Health Organization documented at least 56 incidents of attacks against Palestinian healthcare and personnel.

MAP’s joint report with Al Mezan and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, Chronic Impunity: Gaza’s Health Sector Under Repeated Attack, documents the persistent failure by Israel to conduct genuine investigations into such attacks by its forces. The continued impunity for these and previous attacks underlines the importance of accountability to ensuring an end to the violations of international humanitarian law. Aimee Shalan, MAP’s CEO, stated:

While we celebrate the work of brave health workers around the world battling coronavirus, we must remember that impunity is also infectious. If governments wish to ensure that medics around the world can continue their vital, life-saving work free from fear, they must ensure accountability wherever they come under attack. The occupied Palestinian territory must not be an exception.”

We are grateful to Al Haq for their diligent documentation of these latest incidents, which can be read in full click here.

To learn more about chronic impunity for attacks on Palestinian health, read our report here.

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