“An Israeli soldier put a gun to my head”: Palestinian paramedics in harm’s way

Palestinian medical personnel undertake vital, but increasingly hazardous, duties in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Emergency medical technicians are early to arrive following attacks, and are often nearby at protests or clashes to assist the wounded.

We spoke to staff at the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) Emergency Medical Centre in Jerusalem to find out how attacks and threats against Palestinian medics by the Israeli military put them in harm’s way and affect the sustainable provision of healthcare.

Can you tell us about your work?

Mohammed: “We work for the PRCS Emergency Medical Centre in Jerusalem. I’m a paramedic, and Ibrahim is the head of volunteers in Jerusalem. We are a special branch because we connect Palestinian areas with Israeli areas.”

Ibrahim: “Our mission is to provide emergency medical services and transfer patients from checkpoints to hospitals.”

Have your medical teams ever been put in harm’s way?

Mohammed: “Yes, our staff and volunteers have encountered violence from Israeli soldiers.”

Ibrahim: “Israeli soldiers sometimes kick and even shoot at PRCS volunteers. They say: ‘You don’t have to be here, it is not your work,’ so if there are critical cases, say a person has been shot, the PRCS volunteers are not always allowed to be the first responders to the scene.”

“One time an Israeli soldier put a gun to my head, saying ‘Why do you want to come here?’ We have to face these issues often.”

Mohammed: “The situation here is occupation. Our work is humanitarian, we are not doing political work, we are giving first aid.”

Can you access the wounded during clashes?

Ibrahim: “We face a lot of problems, especially during clashes because we are not treated as we should be under international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention requires that ambulances and their staff must be protected at all times so the wounded and sick can be freely treated.”

Mohammed: “In clash situations the Israeli authorities can refuse to let PRCS ambulances enter areas with injured people. I’ve worked when there have been clashes and Israeli soldiers have refused to let us enter the clash scene, so patients have not received medical care.”

“During the recent clashes here in Jerusalem we faced restrictions transferring patients to the hospital. We faced restrictions getting to the patient; the soldiers were blocking the way. They called the International Committee of the Red Cross and they told them it was a military area and forbidden for an ambulance or medical staff to enter.”

Ibrahim: “Although it is illegal to raise a weapon against an ambulance, we face regular violence from Israeli soldiers against our staff and ambulances. We recorded six cases of abuse against our staff, where PRCS volunteers or medics were shot at or hit by soldiers.”

Mohammed: “We also recorded a case of the ambulance being stopped and the soldiers opening the ambulance and arresting the patient inside.”

How does a patient being arrested from a PRCS ambulance impact future work?

Mohammed: “When people hear someone was arrested from a PRCS ambulance in Jerusalem the population stops trusting us. It’s dangerous when we go to help the injured and people tell us ‘No I don’t need an ambulance’. Instead the patient is transferred by private car.”

Ibrahim: “In Silwan, during the recent clashes, after the soldiers arrested a patient from our ambulance, there was another injured person who had been shot. We went to help him but he disappeared; his friends hid him even though he was bleeding heavily. After making sure there were no soldiers, his friends took him to hospital in a private car but he died from the bleeding. They thought if our ambulance took him to hospital the soldiers would arrest him.” 

Take action

Join Medical Aid for Palestinians in calling on the UK Government to make recommendations in support of Palestinians’ rights to health and dignity, including protection for Palestinian healthcare, in Israel’s Universal Periodic Review in January.

Protect Palestinian healthcare

Read MAP’s new report, Health Under Occupation, to find out more about attacks against medical teams in the oPt.