MAP's letter to the UK Government on attacks on Palestinian healthcare

Dear Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon,

I am writing to you to urge the UK government, as the penholder on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in the Security Council, to use the opportunity of the upcoming UNSC open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict on 25 May to condemn escalating attacks on Palestinian healthcare workers and medical infrastructure by Israel, and to work with other Member States to pursue accountability for these attacks.

The World Health Organization (WHO), Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and local human rights organisations have documented widespread attacks on Palestinian healthcare workers and facilities in the context of Israel’s ongoing military assaults on Gaza and its systematic use of excessive force against protesters in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem.

In the first week of its military assault on Gaza, Israeli airstrikes have damaged nine hospitals and twelve primary care clinics according to the Health Cluster, a Ministry of Health building, and the offices of NGOs including the Qatar Red Crescent Society. Extensive damage to the Hala Al Shwa primary healthcare clinic in North Gaza, impacted all services including COVID-19 testing and vaccination, and the Ministry of Health in Gaza also reported that damage to the Al Remal clinic in Gaza City impacted its laboratory and caused the suspension of COVID-19 testing and telemedicine services. Two doctors and a psychologist have also been killed along with members of their families.

In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Palestinians protesting Israel’s discriminatory practices and systematic violations of international law have been met with widespread use of excessive force, including live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, and “skunk water”, causing more than 6,300 injuries. Israeli forces have impeded the work of Palestinian health workers, including by preventing access to the wounded, delaying the transportation of injured people, and physically assaulting paramedics and ambulances.

These attacks occur in the context of Israel’s 14-year blockade and illegal closure of Gaza, considered “collective punishment” of a population of two million by the ICRC, which has led to the de-development of health sector. They are also taking place amid an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has badly stretched Gaza’s health services, and Israel’s persistent failure to meet its legal duty as an occupying power to ensure rapid, equitable and comprehensive access to vaccines for Palestinians. Widespread destruction to civilian homes has caused the displacement of 75,000 people, with most now sheltering in crowded schools and mosques, putting the population at risk of another COVID-19 surge.

These incidents reflect a persistent and clear pattern of attacks on Palestinian healthcare over many years. Dozens of health workers were injured and killed and facilities damaged and destroyed in the 2008/9, 2012 and 2014 assaults on Gaza and Israeli forces perpetrated deadly attacks on Palestinian medics during the Great March of Return protests in 2018/19. Israel has consistently failed to conduct genuine investigations into these attacks, or to hold wrongdoers to account. The international community, too, has failed to ensure accountability, which has made the recurrence we are witnessing today inevitable.

No state can be allowed to be above the law, particularly as regards the fundamental protections of civilian and humanitarian persons and objects under international humanitarian law. Attacks on health workers in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) undermine the protection of healthcare everywhere.

In 2016, the UK championed the passing of UNSC Resolution 2286, condemning attacks on health services in conflicts around the world, demanding that states comply with international humanitarian and human rights law which prohibits such violations, and urging states to take proactive steps to hold perpetrators to account.

Israel’s continuing and systematic violations against Palestinian healthcare demonstrates the urgency of ensuring the application of Resolution 2286 to the context of the oPt.

At the UNSC on May 16, UK Ambassador Barbara Woodward expressed the UK’s grave concern over damage to Palestinian medical installations, schools, and residential buildings. Israel’s violations against healthcare have, however, persisted. Expressions of concern without meaningful action have enabled Israel’s assaults to continue unabated over the past week – and for decades before.

Urgent action is needed to protect Palestinian health workers from further violence. I therefore urge you to express the UK’s unequivocal condemnation of these attacks at the upcoming UNSC open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict on 25 May, and to work with other member states to pursue meaningful accountability, including through supporting the International Criminal Court’s investigation into the situation in Palestine.

A failure to do so would abandon Palestinian health workers and civilians to further violence, and signal tacit endorsement of Israel’s practices. Given the UK’s resolute opposition to such acts in other contexts, it would also highlight a dangerous double standard in UK policy towards the protection of civilians and healthcare workers, and a disregard for international law.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Aimee Shalan,

Chief Executive, Medical Aid for Palestinians

MAP also wrote to other UN Security Council members, urging them to raise the issue of attacks on Palestinian healthcare at the Council. Read the letter here.

Photo: Internally displaced people in Gaza following of Israeli airstrikes in May 2021. (Credit: UN OCHA).

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