Physicians for Human Rights-Israel: All Measures Must Be Taken to Avoid Injuring Medical Personnel and Endangering Medical Facilities and Teams While Fighting Continues in the Gaza Strip

07/23/2014
Map of Gaza

In light of many cases of damage to hospitals, clinics, and medical personnel in the Gaza Strip, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has sent an urgent communication to the Attorney General and to the Minister of Defense:

Yesterday, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-IL) sent a letter to the Attorney General and the Defense Minister of Israel, addressing the harming of medical facilities and medical teams, and the difficulties of evacuating casualties in the course of the Gaza military operation. The letter, signed by Ran Cohen, Executive Director of PHR-IL and the organization’s legal consultants, attorneys Tamir Blank and Adi Lustigman, states that “[w]e address you in light of many, too many, events of damage in body and spirit to medical personnel and facilities in the Gaza Strip.” This is also further to prior communications from this organization and other organizations, which discussed the policy of attack in Gaza, suspected harm to the Al-Wafa hospital (Hebrew),  and the urgent need to put into place a mechanism that will govern the evacuation of casualties.

Due to the intense fighting around the Gaza Strip it has been difficult to collect full information on the ground, but according to information that PHR-Israel has obtained from various sources, including the emergency section of the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, which acts in cooperation with the World Health Organization, as per 21 July 2014, five hospitals and six clinics and rescue centers in the Gaza Strip have been directly or indirectly damaged, 23 medical team members have been wounded and three have been killed (a full list is included in the letter). The most recent damage was recorded yesterday at the Red Crescent Shuhadat Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir Al-Balah, apparently due to a direct hit on the hospital. This hit led to the death of five persons (including medical personnel), injured approximately 70 people, and serious damage was caused to the building and to two ambulances that were evacuating wounded persons.

PHR-IL points out that the Geneva Conventions grant protection to medical facilities and personnel in the course of fulfilling their role. The Israeli High Court of Justice has said, about this protection, that even in the event that there is a well-founded concern that the medical facility is being misused, this does not permit a sweeping breach of humanitarian principles. “It should be recalled that in the case of patients, there is frequently no practical possibility of evacuating them from the place where they currently are, which comes in addition to the difficulty of civilians in the Gaza Strip who are sometimes prevented from evacuating by Hamas or by the circumstances of war. Moreover, it must be established that the medical facility has effectively contributed to the military activity, and that there was an immediate military necessity to damage it.”

The many cases of damage described above raise grave concerns that the army is not operating according to international law, whether intentionally and due to ‘orders from above’ or due to the fact that guidelines and directives relating to the legal manner of operation with regard to medical infrastructure are not integrated or applied on the ground.

In light of this, and in order to prevent further damage to medical facilities and members of medical teams, PHR-IL demands that the army cease engaging in operations that unlawfully endanger medical personnel, and asks that guidelines be given with regard to the prohibitions and limitations that apply to medical facilities and personnel. furthermore, PHR-IL demands that an immediate rethinking be effected, and that the army plan its actions in a manner that reduces to a minimum the possibility of such damage in future, and that it perform a retroactive review and system-wide lesson learning, also taking into account the damage that has already been inflicted.

For further details contact Lital Grosman, Spokesperson, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel: +972-52-3112136 / +972-54-6995199.