Published on Jul 31, 2014
Senator David Norris Israel bombs first and weeps later.
by Charlotte Silver on Sat, 08/09/2014 – 13:45
“We were on our way back to Nasser hospital, driving with the lights and sirens on as always. The ambulance was clearly marked as such. The doctor, nurse and I were all wearing medical uniforms. When we reached the Islamic University I heard an explosion right next to us and the front and back windows of the car fell out,” Gaza ambulance driver Mohammad Abu Jumiza, told Amnesty International about a terrifying 24 July chase between him and Israeli artillery as he was transferring injured people in Khan Younis to the hospital.
“As I was turning another missile hit next to us, and then a third one. When the fourth missile hit, I lost control and we crashed, so we ran out of the car and found shelter in a building. Then there were two more missiles fired and some people were injured.”
His case is not unique. The firing on and striking of clearly marked ambulance vehicles with flashing lights and medical workers wearing fluorescent vests while tending to the injured has been documented repeatedly throughout Israel’s offensive on Gaza.
After collecting and releasing harrowing testimonies by Palestinian medical workers, Amnesty International has accused the Israeli military of deliberately attacking medical workers and hospitals in Gaza.
Since the military offensive in Gaza began a month ago, Israeli fire has killed at least six ambulance workers and 13 aid workers while they were attempting to rescue injured people or retrieve the dead, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
In addition to those killed, 49 doctors, nurses and paramedics and 33 aid workers have been injured while carrying out their duties. Israel has directly struck major hospitals throughout the Gaza Strip, and forced five hospitals and 34 medical clinics to shut down due to either extensive damage to their facilities or increasing hostilities in the vicinity.
Amnesty International does not confirm or deny Israeli claims that Palestinian rockets were fired from medical facilities, but emphasizes that regardless, the protected civilian status of hospitals, ambulances and medical facilities must be presumed, in accordance with international humanitarian law.
Israel has failed to substantiate its own claims, which have not been independently verified.
Ambulance crew ambushed
At least two workers from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society have been killed; 35 injured; and 17 PRCS health vehicles put out of service due to attacks by Israel.
Mohammad al-Abadlah, 32, was fired on by Israeli soldiers while attempting to enter the southern Gaza town of al-Qaraqa after having coordinated with the Israeli army through the Red Cross.
Hassan al-Attal, 40, a colleague who was with al-Abadlah at the time, provides a disturbing testimony to Amnesty that suggests Israeli soldiers knew exactly what they were doing when they opened fire on the medical workers.
The two men went to retrieve the injured man in al-Qaraqa at 10pm on 25 July but were unable to enter the village due to blockades on all entrances. As a rule, PRCS always communicates its whereabouts and activities with the Israeli army via the Red Cross. Al-Attal said that while the two men searched for an entry into the village the Israeli army directed them via the Red Cross to enter by foot.
“We got out, we crossed about 10-12 metres and suddenly we were being fired at directly. My colleague screamed and said ‘I’ve been shot.’ The shooting continued everywhere, so I could not pull him away or else I too would have got shot and fallen beside him – so I ran and sat in the ambulance,” al-Attal told Amnesty.
Mohammad Ghazi al-Hessy, head of the PRCS’s center in Khan Younis, told Amnesty International that the Red Cross had originally received a request from the Israeli army to evacuate the injured person. But merely fifteen minutes after dispatching a PRCS team, they came under Israeli fire.
Once al-Abadlah was struck, al-Hessy mobilized another team of around six workers to rescue al-Abadlah. They managed to get him on a stretcher, but, “suddenly we were surrounded by very heavy gunfire from the soldiers in the area,” he told Amnesty.
“They were direct shots aimed over our heads, under our feet, so we had to evacuate the area. During that time, Mohammad was bleeding very heavily, he was still alive at that point – his white uniform was completely red. Because of the gunfire we were unable to put him on the stretcher.”
Two more PRCS workers eventually returned collect al-Abadlah: “We drove him to Nasser Hospital. He was still alive and breathing. We worked on him at Nasser Hospital, but he died in the intensive care unit.”
“He was killed despite assurances we received from the Red Cross that the area was safe for us to work in,” Dr. Bashar Murad, head of PRCS’s emergency and ambulance unit, told Amnesty International. “Our entrance to the area was checked twice with the army through the Red Cross. His colleagues would also have been killed if they had not found shelter in a house nearby. There was shooting at them. The Red Cross needs to call for accountability in this case.”
Burned to death when ambulance shelled
A’ed Al-Bor’i, 28, a volunteer with the PRCS ambulance service, was killed on 25 July while riding in an ambulance with an injured person. The ambulance was shelled and al-Bor’i was burned to death.
This is also not the first time Israel has targeted medical workers in violation of international law. Amnesty reminds readers that the Israeli army attacked health workers during its offensive in 2008-2009 and 2012.
The Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 (Fourth Geneva Convention) obliges states to respect and protect the wounded, to allow the removal from besieged areas of the wounded or sick, and the access of medical personnel to such areas. The deliberate obstruction of medical personnel to prevent the wounded receiving medical attention may constitute “wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health,” a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a war crime.
In addition to the direct attacks on medical workers and facilities, the Israeli offensive has prevented ambulances from reaching areas in dire need and pushed the entirety of Gaza’s medical facilities to the brink of collapse. Amnesty reports that hospitals are operating with debilitating shortages in drugs, medicine and water and under threat of power outages due to inadequate supply of fuel.
Calling for an arms and fuel embargo
On 4 August, Amnesty International called on the US government to immediately stop its transfer of fuel to Israel to be used for the Israeli military. On 11 July, Amnesty had called on the United Nations to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel and all Palestinians armed groups.
In its recent appeal to halt the transfer of fuel for military purposes, Amnesty International reported that the most recent delivery of jet fuel took place on 14 July, soon after the bombardment of Gaza began, by the US Defense Logistics Agency Energy.
Since January 2013, the US government has supplied the Israeli military with a total of 277,000 tons of jet fuel.
By Adrian Blomfield, Jerusalem
7:11PM BST 07 Sep 2012
Police inaction and an educational culture that encourages Jewish children to treat Christians with “contempt” has made life increasingly “intolerable” for many, Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custodian of the Holy Land, said.
Fr Pizzaballa’s intervention, unusually outspoken for a senior Catholic churchman, came after pro-settler extremists attacked a Trappist monastery in the town of Latroun.
The door of the monastery was set fire to and its walls were covered with anti-Christian graffiti that denounced Christ as a “monkey”.
The incident is the latest in a series of acts of arson and vandalism this year targeting places of worship, including Jerusalem’s 11th century Monastery of the Cross, built on the site where the tree used to make Christ’s Cross is held to have been planted.
Slogans reading “Death to Christians” and other offensive graffiti were daubed on its walls.
Fr Pizzaballa, the head of the Franciscan Order in the Holy Land, and fellow senior clergymen of other denominations have protested the failure of the police to identify the culprits behind any of the incidents.
But the most important issue they say Israel has failed to address is the practice of some ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools that teach children it is a doctrinal obligation to abuse anyone in Holy Orders they encounter in public.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews, including children as young as eight, spit at members of the clergy on a daily basis, Fr Pizzaballa said.
Such a culture of intolerance has resulted in a “scapegoating” of Christians, leading to them becoming the convenient target of extremists fighting political battles that have nothing to do with the community.
“Sadly, what happened in Latroun is only another in a long series of attacks against Christians and their places of worship,” Christian leaders, including Fr Pizzaballa, said in a statement this week.
“Those who sprayed their hateful slogans expressed their anger at the dismantlement of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But why do they vent this anger against Christians and Christian places of worship?
“What kind of ‘teaching of contempt’ for Christians is being communicated in their schools and in their homes? The time has come for the authorities to act to put an end to this senseless violence and to ensure a ‘teaching of respect’ in schools for all those who call this land home.”
After years of silence by the Church, Fr Pizzaballa, who is charged by the Vatican with responsibility for all Christian sites in the Holy Land, has taken the lead in demanding protection for the faith. Earlier this year he wrote to Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, urging him to take action.
Although the Israeli government has strongly condemned attacks on Christians, Fr Pizzaballa criticised the authorities for not taking the plight of the community seriously enough.
In an unusually outspoken interview with Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, he denounced the failure of the political system to address blatantly anti-Christian acts, particularly those carried out by prominent radical politicians.
Earlier this year, Michael Ben Ari, an Israeli legislator, publicly ripped up a copy of the New Testament in the country’s parliament, the Knesset, and threw it into a rubbish bin after denouncing it as an “abhorrent” book.
A second legislator called for Bibles to be burnt.
Although Mr Ben Ari was criticised by the Knesset’s speaker, he faced no official sanction despite protests from the church.
“Such a serious thing occurs and no one does anything,” Fr Pizzaballa said.
“In practice, it negates our existence here.”
RAMALLAH, WEST BANK — Centuries of European colonialism have provided the world with certain basic lessons about subjugating colonized peoples: The longer any colonial occupation endures, the greater the settlers’ racism and extremism tends to grow. This is especially true if the occupiers encounter resistance; at that point, the occupied population becomes an obstacle that must either be forced to submit or removed through expulsion or murder.
In the eyes of an occupying power, the humanity of those under its thumb depends on the degree of their submission to, or collaboration with, the occupation. If the occupied population chooses to stand in the way of the occupier’s goals, then they are demonized, which allows the occupier the supposed moral excuse of confronting them with all possible means, no matter how harsh.
The Israeli occupation of Palestine is one of the only remaining settler-colonial occupations in the world today.
And it is not limited to East Jerusalem and the West Bank: Although Israel withdrew its settlers and army from Gaza in 2005, it is still recognized by the United Nations as an occupying power, due to its complete control of Gaza’s airspace, sea access and of almost all of its land borders.
Over the years, Israel has used all forms of pressure to prevent the Palestinians from achieving their national rights and gaining independence. It hasn’t been enough for Israelis to believe their own claims about Palestinians; they have sought incessantly to impose this narrative on the world and to have it adopted by their Western allies.
Unsurprisingly, all of this has led to complete shamelessness in mainstream Israeli rhetoric about Palestinians. After all, if one is not held accountable, then one has the freedom to think — and do — what one wants. With no internal or external checks, one can act with impunity.
The Israeli left is a relic, all but extinct, and the extremist right is entrenched in the Israeli political establishment. Attacking the Palestinians has become officially sanctioned policy, embedded in Israeli public consciousness and politely ignored in Western political circles.
There is now an extremist, racist ideological current in Israel that not only justifies the recent onslaught on the Gaza Strip, but actually encourages the use of enormous and disproportionate violence against civilians, which has led to the extermination of entire families.
Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of the Knesset, recently called on the Israeli army to attack and occupy Gaza, paying no heed to anything but the safety of Israeli soldiers. He then demanded that Gaza be annexed to Israel, and asked the army to use all means at its disposal to “conquer” Gaza, by which he meant that obedient Palestinians would be allowed to stay, while the rest — the majority — should be exiled to the Sinai Peninsula. This cannot be understood as anything less than a call for ethnic cleansing.
Ayelet Shaked, a Knesset member for the Jewish Home Party, a member of the governing coalition, called on the Israeli army to destroy the homes of terrorist “snakes,” and to murder their mothers as well, so that they would not be able to bring “little snakes” into the world.
And Mordechai Kedar, a professor at Bar Ilan University, publicly suggested that raping the mothers and sisters of “terrorists” might deter further terrorism. The university did not take any measures against him.
Such statements are no longer isolated incidents, but reflective of the general sentiment within a country where chants of “Kill the Arabs” are increasingly common. It is no longer an aberration to hear these opinions expressed in public, or by politicians and academics. What is unexpected — and unacceptable — is that such statements are not met with any sort of condemnation in official Western circles that claim to oppose racism and extremism.
The rise in Israeli racism and extremism against Palestinians would not have happened without the unconditional support that Israel receives from its allies, most significantly the United States.
Israel cannot continue to be the exception to the rule of international law and human rights. The international community must hold it accountable for its rhetoric and its actions, and begin to treat it like all other countries. It should not be allowed to continue to enjoy its state of exceptionalism and to use this to wreak destruction on the Palestinian people.
After 47 years of occupation, two decades of stalled peace talks and almost eight years of a strangulating siege of the Gaza Strip, the international community must demand that Israel clearly state what it intends to do with its occupation of the Palestinian people. Since the Palestinians are not the occupiers, but rather those living under occupation, this question cannot be asked of them.
If Israel wants to continue its occupation and hinder Palestinians’ path to freedom and independence, then it should be aware that the Palestinian people will continue to resist with all the means at their disposal. If Israel intends to end the occupation, then it will find that the Palestinians are more than ready for an agreement.
What the Palestinians are enduring today in Gaza should be a clarion call for the entire world to end the bloodshed. But it will take more than a cease-fire. It will take peace. And peace cannot happen without an end to the occupation.
Ali Jarbawi is a political scientist at Birzeit University and a former minister of the Palestinian Authority. This article was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.