A new report by a human rights organisation has concluded that Israeli troops basically ignored the fact that Palestinian medical staff adhered strictly to international standards while treating demonstrators in Gaza's Great March of Return protests, and shot them deliberately. This was despite the staff wearing distinct uniforms identifying them as medical personnel, and operating out of medical aid stations and vehicles which were also marked clearly with internationally-recognised symbols. The targeting of the medical staff by Israeli snipers was, claims Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, "systematic and deliberate".
Al-Mezan points out that the shootings took place in broad daylight, with no obstacles or anything blocking the sightlines of the troops. Moreover, the Israeli forces have access to sophisticated surveillance tools which enable them to identify who is moving in the areas under observation.
The organisation presented a summary of the investigations and information collected about the deaths of three medics: volunteer medic at Life Pulse team, Abdullah Sabry Atia Al-Qatty, aged 22; Razan Al-Najjar, 20, a paramedic at the Palestinian Medical Relief Society; and a medic in the Civil Defence, Musa Jaber Abdul Salam Abu Hassanein, 34. All were shot in the chest and killed.
The right of medical personnel in the field to be protected, along with their places of work and vehicles, was violated by the Israel Defence Forces using live ammunition and tear gas, Al-Mezan says. Medical staff in Gaza's main hospitals insisted that this was no ordinary tear gas, but "toxic" gas, judging by the nature of the effects on the targets.
The report points to the challenges facing healthcare services in the Gaza Strip due to the ongoing Israeli-led siege, which has been imposed for 11 years. Patients face serious difficulties in having easy access to medical care. If and when they do get to hospital, they are met with severe shortages of medicines and medical disposables; by the end of last month, around half of the items on the essential drugs list were unavailable.
Aside from the three medical personnel killed by the IDF, 99 have been injured and 64 vehicles have been damaged. Khan Younis has suffered the largest number of casualties among medical staff, with 31 victims reported.
The facts presented in Al-Mezan's report reinforce the conclusion that the Israeli occupation forces have a deliberate intention to kill and injure Palestinian civilians, including medical personnel, whose ability to tend to protesters wounded by the soldiers was also limited by restrictions on getting close to the barrier which serves as a nominal border.
The human rights organisation called upon the international community to take tangible and urgent steps to stop the ongoing violations against the Palestinians, especially medical staff, by pressing Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law and put an end to its attempts to politicise such legislation. Israel, insisted Al-Mezan, should not be allowed to act with impunity.
Furthermore, the report calls on all relevant agencies and organisations to provide support and humanitarian aid to the health sector in the Gaza Strip, which remains technically, legally and practically under Israeli occupation.