MAP speaks out against attacks on Palestinian healthcare at UN Human Rights Council

As Israeli settler and military violence continues to surge in the occupied West Bank, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has been calling for protection of Palestinian healthcare and civilians at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

The Council began its 52nd regular session in February, with two agenda items addressing human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Under Agenda Item 2, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, published his annual report on the human rights situation in the oPt.

This report highlighted apparent unlawful use of force by Israeli security forces, and the impact of Israel’s policies on Palestinian health and healthcare, including the 16-year closure on Gaza which has severely restricted access to specialised medical care due to delays or denials of patients’ exit permits.  

Mr Türk also noted that repeated closures of cities in the West Bank by Israeli forces, some of which may amount to collective punishment, impact Palestinians’ access to health and education. During a three-week closure of Nablus in late 2022, access to healthcare for Palestinians was severely restricted, leading to a 20% decline in the number of patients arriving at primary health centres in the city.  

The High Commissioner concluded that “Israeli security forces and authorities are able to act with impunity given the lack of accountability for their actions violating international humanitarian law and international human rights law, whether in the context of law enforcement or during hostilities,” and called upon all duty bearers “to put an end to impunity and to conduct prompt, independent, impartial, thorough, effective and transparent investigations.” Further, Mr Türk called on all states to exert their influence to prevent violations of international humanitarian law by all parties.  

In the interactive dialogue with Member States and civil society, Mr Türk highlighted that “lethal force has been frequently employed by the Israeli security forces, regardless of the level of threat and at times, even as an initial measure rather than as last resort.” He also noted the escalation of violence by Israeli forces and settlers in the oPt this year, including three attacks on ambulances during a rampage of settlers on the village of Huwara.  

During the dialogue, MAP’s Advocacy and Communications Manager, Aseel Baidoun, spoke to the Council to reiterate concerns regarding the use of live fire against Palestinians, and the lack of accountability for attacks on Palestinian healthcare:  

"MAP is concerned by the routine use of excessive force by the Israeli military, including widespread use of live ammunition against civilians, with a high frequency of injuries in the upper body and head.  

Such injuries strain the Palestinian health system, which is already struggling under Israel’s policies of systematic discrimination and fragmentation. 
We are alarmed by persistent violations against Palestinian healthcare, including obstruction of emergency medical teams, and violent attacks on ambulances and paramedics by soldiers and settlers.  

[…] Lack of accountability keeps emergency responders in the firing line, unable to provide life-saving care. We reaffirm the High Commissioner’s call to ensure an end to impunity for such violations." 

In the General Debate under Agenda Item 7, on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, Luxembourg stated that recent measures by the Israeli government, including the partial repeal of the 2005 Disengagement Law and the transfer of powers over the West Bank to a civil authority “represent an alarming acceleration of the de facto and de jure annexation of the occupied territories.” 

Several Member States reflected on the discriminatory nature of Israeli policies, with Namibia describing the situation in the oPt as being “characterised by grave human rights violations, including the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, committed by Israeli officials with the aim of prolonging the illegal occupation and suppressing the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.” 

Many interventions repeated the call for accountability for violence against Palestinians, including Ireland, which stated:  "Israel must abide by its obligations to protect civilians as the Occupying Power, including investigating incidents of settler violence and holding perpetrators accountable.” 

MAP invited the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS)’s International Humanitarian Law Coordinator, Omar Azzam, to deliver an oral statement under Agenda Item 7 on our behalf. He underscored the very challenging circumstances their paramedics and ambulance crews are facing as they try to treat the wounded and save lives in the West Bank: 

“In 2022, PRCS recorded 939 violations against its medical teams: obstructing their work, threatening the lives of health workers and civilians, and systematically violating international humanitarian law, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

Our colleagues, protected by the emblem and with uniforms visible to all, ask you: where is the respect for international law and their life-saving mission? We are appealing to Members of this Council to take urgent and meaningful action to ensure respect for IHL and accountability to protect our medical teams, and all Palestinian healthcare workers.”

MAP is campaigning for an end to violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, and for the protection of health workers. Please take action today by emailing your MP

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Photo: PRCS paramedics respond to attacks on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem (Credit: PRCS).

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