Israel raids hospital, blocks medical care in Jerusalem

Palestinian doctors and medical employees protest outside al-Makassed hospital against the storming of the East Jerusalem medical facility by Israeli forces, 29 October.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

A dozen soldiers charged down the halls of al-Makassed hospital to the office of its director, Dr. Rafiq al-Husseini, and demanded the medical records of a 16-year-old boy in Israeli custody.

Al-Husseini complied, handing over the records of the boy who had been treated only a few days earlier for a bullet wound to the foot.

The next day, more soldiers returned. This time they demanded the hospital’s surveillance videos for specific dates.

For three straight days, Israeli soldiers rampaged through East Jerusalem’s only emergency hospital, located on the Mount of Olives.

Medical and human rights groups say the raids are part of a pattern of Israeli obstruction to medical care in the occupied city.

Over the last month, Israeli occupation forces have seriously hindered medical care to Palestinians by blocking ambulances at checkpoints, harassing medics and violating patient privacy.

Al-Husseini told The Electronic Intifada that the soldiers had brought along a computer specialist but were unable to find the footage they wanted. So they confiscated the entire hard disk where the surveillance video was stored.

As the only emergency facility accessible to Palestinians in the city, al-Makassed has treated most of the 370 demonstrators injured in East Jerusalem over the last month.

In October, 72 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and Palestinian medical services say they have treated 8,262 injured Palestinians throughout the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Almost 800 were shot with live ammunition.

Two Palestinians died in October after delays at recently installed checkpoints in East Jerusalem.

Doctors interrogated

The raids at al-Makassed last month interrupted the treatment of patients. Staff were prevented from doing their work and their sense of security and safety was severely compromised, hospital director al-Husseini said.

Staff held a sit-in at the entrance of the hospital on 29 October to protest the raids.

“After 30 minutes, the Israeli forces entered the hospital and began shooting tear gas and rubber bullets inside the hospital,” al-Husseini said.

Two patients were hit with rubber-coated steel bullets and one staff member was hit with a tear gas canister, he added.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel released a video showing tear gas being fired in the hospital grounds.

Israeli forces summoned two doctors for interrogation, al-Husseini said. One was held for nearly two days. The army questioned the doctors about who had accompanied the boy whose medical records were seized.

In addition, at least four nurses have been summoned for interrogation.

“It’s a puzzle. What else do they want? They have the boy in custody and all his medical records,” al-Husseini said of the army’s ongoing presence.

He said he believes Israel is intimidating medical staff so that they will become reluctant to treat wounded protesters in future.

The International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concern over Israel’s raids on the hospital.

“The authorities have a right to carry out searches and law enforcement operations. Our concern is these are disproportionate and have nothing to do with medical care,” a spokesperson told The Electronic Intifada.

In a more forceful statement, Robert Piper, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, said, “Actions that undermine the ability of health workers to provide care to those in need are violations of international law. The conduct by the Israeli security forces during several entries into al-Makassed hospital this past week is unacceptable and must not be repeated.”

“An occupying force”

Under an Israeli law held over from British colonial rule, hospitals are required to hand over information on patients deemed by authorities to be criminal suspects.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it, a decision unanimously rejected by world governments and the United Nations.

“Al-Makassed receives all the demonstrators in East Jerusalem; you cannot say that a protester is a suspect of a violent crime,” Hadas Ziv, director of public outreach and ethics for Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, told The Electronic Intifada.

Ziv said that the raids make the hospital vulnerable: “It sends a signal that Israel doesn’t see it as a hospital, but as a shelter of so-called terrorists. This is very dangerous.”

The harassment of the hospital and its staff, Ziv fears, may lead Palestinians to avoid seeking treatment altogether.

Israel has previously used this law against protesters. In October 2000, Palestinian towns in present-day Israel witnessed large demonstrations in response to Israel’s violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli police responded to unarmed protesters with brutal force, killing 13 and injuring hundreds.

Israeli authorities demanded that hospitals provide names of all the protesters they treated. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel appealed the demand at the time and the government backed down, but the law remains on the books.

Following the raids on al-Makassed, the group wrote to Israel’s ministries of health and security, asking for more information.

“It requires very extreme circumstances to attack the neutrality of hospitals,” Ziv said.

Hospital director al-Husseini said the Israeli authorities regularly request information on patients, but they do so with a court order and without the presence of armed soldiers.

“It absolutely violates the patient’s privacy,” he said.

“But we don’t challenge the court order,” he added. “This is an occupying force. We don’t like giving them any information, but we give it to them by their force … and soldiers.”

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli forces disguised as Palestinians raided a hospital in Nablus last month and abducted a patient from his bed.

“The checkpoint is a killer”

The obstruction of medical work in East Jerusalem is not confined to hospital raids.

Erab al-Fuqaha, a spokesperson for the Palestine Red Crescent Society, told The Electronic Intifada that her organization’s ambulances have been severely hindered by new checkpoints erected by Israeli forces.

Last week, 52-year-old Nadim Shqeirat died in Jerusalem’s Jabal al-Mukabir neighborhood after suffering a heart attack. Palestinian medics said that Israeli obstacles cost them valuable minutes reaching him.

A week earlier, 65-year-old Huda Darwish died after her family were held up at a checkpoint in the Issawiyeh neighborhood as they tried to get her to hospital. She had respiratory difficulties after breathing tear gas fired by Israeli forces.

According to the UN monitoring group OCHA, Israel has placed 38 obstacles on East Jerusalem roads, including 16 checkpoints, directly affecting nine neighborhoods with a combined population of 138,000.

Two of the new checkpoints are near the Red Crescent station on the Mount of Olives.

“Whenever an ambulance wants to come or go they are stopped and searched and the team and patients are checked,” al-Fuqaha said. “This affects the rate of patients coming to the hospital.”

Red Crescent workers in medical uniforms have also been physically assaulted in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, and prevented from attending to injured Palestinians.

“It’s clear harassment to our team and ambulances – Israel is trying to obstruct our work,” al-Fuqaha said.

She cited two occasions that Israeli forces prevented medics from treating Palestinians who were shot during alleged attacks in Jerusalem.

“International law requires that occupation forces allow medical workers to perform medical treatment,” al-Fuqaha said.

Dr. Walid al-Hummar, director of East Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria hospital, which specializes in cancer treatment, told The Electronic Intifada that he has seen a marked decline in the number of patients this month.

“The checkpoint is a killer to us,” he said.

Augusta Victoria is only a block from al-Makassed but is now separated by a checkpoint directly outside the hospital’s entrance.

Al-Husseini hopes the raids will cease, but he knows that as long as protests continue, his hospital will remain the primary source of medical care for the injured.

Referring to the teenager lynched in Jerusalem last summer, he added, “We saw them in the two intifadas, we saw them last year after the murder of Muhammad Abu Khudair, and we see them this year.”

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in San Francisco. Twitter: @CharESilver.