Protecting Palestinian health workers: When will the UK live up to its commitments?

“The injury has greatly affected my life. I am afraid and remain shaken. I send a message to the international community to pressure Israel through the United Nations and other international organisations to respect medical teams working in the field.”­ – Volunteer paramedic Emad Al-Buhaisi, shot and injured in Gaza

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This month, at the UN Security Council in New York, member states will once again assemble to discuss the global crisis of attacks on civilian persons and objects in conflict, including health personnel and facilities. May marks the third anniversary of the passing of Security Council Resolution 2286, which raised deep concern about continuing violence against health workers in armed conflict situations around the world, and stressed the importance of accountability for violations of international humanitarian law, urging states to “conduct, in an independent manner, full, prompt, impartial and effective investigations” into such incidents, and to ensure that violations “do not remain unpunished”.

Against this backdrop Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) remembers Musa Abu Hassanin, a Palestinian paramedic shot and killed by Israeli forces a year ago, on 14 May 2018, while helping to treat those wounded on the bloodiest day so far of the “Great March of Return” protests in Gaza. He became the first of four Palestinian health workers to be killed across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in the last year. Two others – Razzan al-Najjar and Abdullah al-Qutati – were also shot dead in the course of their humanitarian duties at the Gaza protests, and the fourth – 17-year-old volunteer paramedic Sajed Muzher – was killed while on duty during clashes at Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank. Sajed was the 43rd Palestinian health worker to be killed by Israeli forces since 2008.

Since 30 March 2018, more than 600 Palestinian health workers have been injured by Israeli forces using tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition. In the films on this page we have collected testimony from just three of the paramedics shot with live ammunition in Gaza. As Ziad, Emad and Youssef testify, the impacts go far beyond the immediate physical pain and injury. Physical and mental scars take a long time to heal, and attacks on health workers undermine the capacity of Gaza’s health sector and in turn the right to health of Palestinians.

Little wonder that the recent UN Commission of Inquiry into the Gaza protests found that the oPt is “one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a health worker”. The Commission’s thorough investigation found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers intentionally shot health workers, despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such.”

So far, no one has been held accountable for these attacks, and impunity fuels recurrence. The Commission, in line with the findings of Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem and previous Commissions of Inquiry, found that “the Government of Israel has consistently failed to meaningfully investigate and prosecute commanders and soldiers for crimes and violations committed against Palestinians or to provide reparation to victims in accordance with international norms.”

The UK’s dangerous double standard

The UK’s position on accountability is inconsistent. On the one hand, at a similar Security Council meeting last year, UK Deputy Ambassador to the UN Jonathan Allen repeated the UK’s concern about the targeting of health workers around the world, adding that:

 “[The UK supports] effective international criminal-justice systems, which have an important role to play in bringing the perpetrators of atrocities to justice when States are either unable or unwilling to do so.”

Just one month ago at the Council he further stated that, regarding such violations, “we don’t lack law. We lack enforcement and accountability.”

Yet on the other hand, when an opportunity to support an international push for accountability presented itself – in the form of the UN Human Rights Council resolution supporting the implementation of the UN Commission of Inquiry’s important recommendations in March – the UK failed to act. The UK’s abstention on that resolution demonstrates a dangerous double standard: a principled position in rhetoric but without substance when Palestinian health workers are attacked.

Attacks on health workers anywhere undermine the safety of health workers everywhere.

The UK should seek to ensure that Resolution 2286 is robustly implemented globally, without excluding Palestinians .

We are therefore calling on the UK Mission to the UN in New York to heed paramedic Emad’s call, and raise the insecurity of Palestinian health workers at the UN Security Council this month during the open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

The UK should call on Israel to ensure their protection in compliance with its obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law. Where Israel is unable or unwilling to credibly investigate such attacks or hold perpetrators accountable, the UK should support international mechanisms to address impunity.

You can join this campaign calling on the UK Mission to do just that, by emailing the UK Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Karen Pierce:

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