Israel targets medical teams

Israeli soldiers stop a Palestinian ambulance driver during an operation in Kalil village near the West Bank city of Nablus, August 2008. (Rami Swidan/MaanImages)

JALAZONE, occupied West Bank (IPS) - Fourteen-year-old Muhammad Nayif’s mother broke down as she spoke to IPS. Nayif died after being shot three times in the chest by Israeli soldiers Monday night.

Palestinian medical personnel who tried to reach the critically injured boy near the Jalazone refugee camp north of Ramallah were threatened at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers and shot at.

“We were sure that the boy was seriously wounded and needed urgent medical attention,” said Sameh Barghouti, a medic in the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) ambulance which tried to evacuate the youngster.

“But the soldiers pointed their guns at us and told us to go back. When we asked to speak to their captain they shot rubber coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters at the ambulance, but fortunately missed,” Barghouti told IPS.

Another ambulance driver, Osama Jarrer, was injured in the leg with a tear gas canister after he too tried to reach the wounded child. Under Israeli law tear gas canisters are meant to be fired in an upward arch and not directly at protestors so as not to endanger lives.

Suliman Massoud from Jalazone who witnessed the aftermath of the shooting said an Israeli helicopter later flew the boy to hospital but he was already dead.

Israeli soldiers claimed that earlier in the evening Palestinians had thrown Molotov cocktails at the Bet El settlement near Jalazone camp, and that Nayif and several of his companions were “gunmen.” Palestinian sources say that Nayif and his friends were neither armed nor had they thrown Molotovs.

IPS visited the area, and it would appear enormously difficult for any firebomb to reach the homes in the settlement. The illegal settlement is on top of a steep hill, hundreds of meters from a road which divides Jalazone refugee camp from the settlement. Palestinians are forbidden from approaching the hill that leads to the settlement.

Bet El is surrounded by a huge, razor-wire topped fence, and the houses are situated well away from it. Israeli soldiers are positioned in guard towers around the settlement.

“The interception of the ambulances in Nayif’s case is just the latest in a long list of such incidents we have faced through the years from the Israelis in trying to provide Palestinians with the necessary medical assistance,” says Raed Yassin, director of the Ramallah PRCS’s emergency department.

“The problems revolve around attacks on our personnel, on the ambulances, damage to our equipment, long delays at checkpoints, and the refusal of access for critically injured patients despite having the requisite security permits from the Israelis,” Yassin told IPS.

“We had a case recently of a 16-year-old boy with cancer from Tulkarm in the northern West Bank. He had a permit from the Israelis but was refused entrance through Qalandiya checkpoint to East Jerusalem where the specialist hospitals are.”

Mutasim Awad, director of the PRCS’s humanitarian law unit, speaks of “lack of protection for medical personnel and their vehicles and the delay and denial of access to East Jerusalem on a daily basis.

“During military operations we are regularly targeted by the Israelis in shelling and shooting attacks. During the Gaza war 16 Palestinian medical personnel were killed, more than 30 injured, while dozens of clinics, hospitals and medical centers were bombed.”

Since 2000, 17 PRCS personnel have been killed, 250 injured, 80 arrested, 170 ambulances damaged, and 36 ambulances completely destroyed by the Israeli military.

“Despite having a memorandum of understanding with the Israeli Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross, we also have difficulties moving ambulances from East Jerusalem to Israeli hospitals in West Jerusalem even when they have Israeli license plates,” Awad told IPS.

“Security is the only reason given by the Israelis even if the patient is on his deathbed. But often it depends on the mood of the soldiers, as our ambulances can be denied entry at one checkpoint and then given access at another.”

Ann Sophie Bonefeld from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem told IPS that her organization is looking into the issue of Palestinian ambulances, personnel and patients being held up at Israeli checkpoints.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated in its August report that during July UN staff members reported a total of 77 access delays or denials at checkpoints, affecting 716 UN staff members. As a result, the UN lost 527 staff hours, or the equivalent of 70 UN staff days.

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