On 12th November, 20 or so men arrived at Al-Ahly Hospital in Hebron in two mini vans at around 3am and entered with someone in a wheelchair pretending to be pregnant. It was a sham. CCTV footage from inside the hospital revealed a large group of men in disguise and armed with pistols and assault rifles walking through the corridors telling hospital workers to get out of the way. It would later become apparent that these men were undercover Israeli soldiers, who had entered the hospital under false pretences with the singular purpose of an extrajudicial killing. The raid resulted in the murder of 27-year-old Abdallah Shalaldeh and the arrest of his cousin Azzam, who was being treated at Al-Ahly.
An armed attack on a hospital is an offence according to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, to which Israel has been a signatory since 1950. (This is something that the US, which attacked an Afghan hospital recently, should also note.) Besides breaking international law, the Israeli raid also destroyed one of the last places of refuge available to a distressed population subjected to relentless colonial violence both at home and in the streets. Israel has crossed all boundaries with its latest murderous stunt.
Why is Israel not held to the same standards of morality and legality as the rest of the world? This is a question that has long been left unanswered, but this most recent flagrant breach has been condemned by many human rights groups. Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Doctors without Borders and Amnesty International are just a few of the reputable organisations which have lent their voices to the chorus of outcries at such barbarity.
“The fact that Abdullah Shalaldah was shot in the head and upper body suggests this was an extrajudicial execution, adding to a disturbing pattern of similar recent incidents by Israeli forces in the West Bank which warrant urgent investigation,” said Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. “Israeli forces must immediately cease their use of intentional lethal force against people who are not posing an imminent threat to life.”
In a similar raid last month, undercover Israeli forces entered a hospital in Nablus, in the northern West Bank, and kidnapped one of its patients. In addition, Israeli police and Special Forces have repeatedly raided Makassed Hospital on the Mount of Olives in occupied East Jerusalem and have searched other Palestinian clinics in the city. Indeed, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem, a standoff between the hospital staff at Makassed and security forces seeking to re-enter the hospital culminated in the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by the Israelis; a staff member and a patient were injured.
The thuggish operations of the Israeli army match the criminal behaviour of the country’s political authorities. The troops were sowing death rather than saving lives, which is what Al-Ahli’s staff do on a daily basis; the Israelis took a life and a living hostage.
It is clear that Israel’s response – formulated by the politicians – to popular Palestinian resistance is one lacking in any restraint whatsoever, moral, legal or otherwise. The policy is intended to intimidate the population living under a brutal military occupation even more than usual, to beat it into submission, not only on a physical but also on a psychological level, whereby safety is not guaranteed even in the most welcoming places of refuge, such as hospitals.
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If that raid had taken place in almost any other country, there would have been international accusations of “war crimes” broadcast by a shrill Western media. Mass condemnation, UN Security Council votes and maybe even a march led by the leaders of the “free world” would have provided the outraged headlines. Given that the victims of such crimes in this case are only Palestinians, and the villains are Israelis, the world’s outrage is strangely muted.
The bottom line is that Israel’s claims that its critics are trying to “delegitimise” the state are redundant; its own actions, like this raid on a hospital, amount to self-dehumanisation and thus self-delegitimisation. The barbarity of Israel’s actions must be exposed, and destroying the sanctity of hospitals is a line that should never be crossed.
Dr. Aayesha J Soni is a medical doctor and the vice chairperson of Media Review Network (MRN), a Johannesburg-based advocacy group. Follow Dr Soni on Twitter: @AayeshaJ
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.