On 4 January 2009, Adalah filed an urgent petition to the Supreme Court in its own name and on behalf of seven other human rights organizations demanding that the Israeli army be banned from striking medical personnel and ambulances while carrying out their operations in the Gaza Strip, and that they be allowed to provide assistance to the dead and wounded and to transport them to hospital. The seven human rights organizations are: Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, and Yesh Din.
The petition argued that since the beginning of the latest Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip there have been many incidents of the Israeli army opening fire and shelling medical personnel in the course of providing medical treatment and assistance to those injured and killed in the Israeli invasion. Mr. Moa’awiya Hassanein, head of emergency services at the Ministry of Health in Gaza reported to PHR-I, that the Israeli army is opening fire at anyone traveling along the coastal road from central to southern Gaza. He added that these attacks are taking place regardless of the fact that ambulances and the uniforms worn by medical personnel bear internationally recognized and accepted marking, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a signatory.
Shelling of ambulances and medical personnel
In the petition, Adalah Attorney Fatmeh El-‘Ajou argued that the large number of incidents in which the Israeli army has fired at medical personnel indicates that these attacks were not cases of mistaken identity, but that medical personnel have become targets.
The petition includes complaints sent to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) regarding the targeting of medical personnel. Among the many cases detailed in the petition was the artillery fire that struck an ambulance on 4 January 2009 while it was transporting a family whose home had been shelled in the Sheikh ‘Ijlin neighborhood. The attack led to the deaths of three medical personnel, named Anas Na’im, Yasser Shabir and Ra’afat Abd al-‘Al.
The coordination demanded by the army in order to allow the movement of medical personnel is virtually impossible
The petitioners further argued that the coordination efforts that the Israeli army is imposing in order to allow the movement of ambulances is extremely convoluted, time-consuming and doomed to fail. Before an ambulance is allowed to set out to treat and transport the wounded, the medical personnel are required to contact the “Civilian Coordination Committee” in the Gaza Strip, which in turn must contact the army’s “Humanitarian Coordination Office”, which then transfers the request to the commander of the military campaign. After attempting to comply with these requests, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and the al-‘Awda Hospital in Gaza City approached PHR-I to seek their assistance in coordinating with these offices. According to investigations carried out by PHR-I, a request for coordination takes an average of between two to ten hours, and in many cases no response is received from the army at all.
Injured people waiting days for an ambulance
The petition also contains examples of specific cases of families whose houses were hit and who have waited for several days for an ambulance to arrive, and who were still waiting at the time the petition was filed. For instance, the house of the al-Ayidi family was bombed on the night of Sunday, 3 January 2009. As a result, six members of the family were injured, including two elderly women in their eighties and a three-year-old child. According to their testimonies, the family lives in an isolated area to the south-east of Gaza City. As a result of the bombing a large part of the house was destroyed, forcing them to leave the house and stay out in the open, next to the house, as Israeli army forces present in the area prevented them from moving on. After their home was bombed, the family, which has 28 members, including 15 children and six women, was left without food, water or any source of heat or light, as the army was opening fire on anyone who moved in the area.
The prevention of medical personnel from moving and from treating the wounded is a war crime
In the petition, Attorney El-‘Ajou argued that attacking medical personnel and ambulances while carrying out their duties to aid the wounded is a violation of customary international law, and indeed also of Israeli law. Articles 24-26 of the First Geneva Convention and Article 20 of the Fourth Geneva Convention grant complete immunity to medical personnel, including the Red Crescent and the Red Cross Societies, engaged in carrying out their work. Moreover, the violation of these provisions is considered a war crime.
In the petition, Adalah emphasized that the right of the wounded to receive medical assistance is a right that is strongly protected under international law and Israeli law, and that this right is not suspended during a state of war.
Given the critical nature of the matter, the petitioners requested that the Supreme Court hold an urgent hearing on the petition.
On 7 January 2009, the court ordered the state to submit its response to the petition by 09:00 on 8 January 2009.
H.C. 102/09, Physicians for Human Rights and Adalah, et al. v. The Prime Minister of Israel, et al.
The Petition (Hebrew)