PCHR 15 January, 2009: Testimony 2 – Gaza Ambulance Drivers Risk Life and Limb to Evacuate Civilians to Safety

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights LTD (non profit)

Palestinian paramedics are risking their lives to rescue the dead, maimed and injured across Gaza

“We are working twenty four hours a day – we only sleep when there is no Israeli shelling. The rest of the time it is our duty to stay at our work – I have not been to my home for days now, and I can’t believe the situation we are facing. Ninety percent of the injured victims we try to rescue have already lost legs or arms, or both.”

Khalid Yusef Abu Sa’ada lives in Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, and works as an ambulance driver at the Al Awda hospital in neighbouring Jabaliya town, risking his life to evacuate dead, maimed and injured victims of attacks by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).

“I was driving my ambulance in Beit Lahia a few days ago, when the Israelis shelled us” he says. “They fired one shell at us, and two minutes later they fired another. I was with two paramedics – The Israeli shells killed one of them, Arafa Abdul Dayem, and the other man, Ala Sarhan, was badly injured. He can’t work because now he is in hospital, paralysed.” This was not the first time Khalid Sa’ada and his colleagues had been attacked by the IOF whilst trying to rescue injured civilians. “A few days ago we were trying to rescue a boy who had been injured in Beit Lahia, when the Israelis bombed us” he says. “The bomb struck just as we were evacuating the patient into our ambulance – the force of the explosion ripped the boy’s head off.”

According to Khalid Sa’ada, Al Awda hospital has two ambulances, and both of them have been destroyed by IOF during their massive ongoing military operation in Gaza.    He says he is now driving an ambulance donated to the hospital by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS).

Since the IOF unleashed Operation Cast Lead on December 27, approximately 983 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 673 civilians, of whom approximately 225 are children.  At least seven Palestinian medical personnel are amongst the dead, killed by IOF whilst on duty rescuing the dead and injured. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has investigated IOF killings of medical personnel during this ongoing IOF military operation. Its findings indicate that IOF have been deliberately targeting medical personnel during this ongoing military operation.

On 31 December, 2008, paramedic Mohammed Abu Hasera, age 21, was killed in Jabal Alrees east of Gaza city when IOF bombed an ambulance belonging to the Palestinian Ministry of Heath whilst he was inside it. His colleague, Dr Ehab Al Madhoun, was also severely injured, and subsequently died of his injuries in hospital. On 4 January, 2009 paramedics Yasser Shubeir, Anas Naim and Rafat Adbul Aal were killed together in the Tal Al Hawa district of Gaza city whilst trying to evacuate injured civilians. They had arrived in Tal Al Hawa by ambulance, and when IOF bombed the ambulance, the three paramedics attempted to rescue the injured on foot, pushing their medical trolleys in front of them. They were shelled by the IOF, and all three men were killed instantly. Paramedic Arafa Abdul Dayem was killed the same day, whilst on duty in Beit Lahia.

The latest IOF victim from the Gaza medical profession died in Jabaliya on 12 January. Thirty-two year old doctor Eysa Saleh was on duty with the Medical Security Services when he was called to the Al Bama building, a residential block in Al Zarqa St, Jabaliya town. As he and his colleague, twenty five year old Ahmed Abu Fuul, were attempting to evacuate a dead body to an ambulance waiting on the street below, they were targeted by an IOF artillery shell that took Dr Saleh’s head off. His colleague, Ahmed, was hospitalized with back and head injuries after being struck by Dr Saleh’s severed head.

International Humanitarian Law explicitly prohibits attacks on medical institutions, and medical personnel. The Fourth Geneva Convention states that all “personnel engaged in the search for, removal and transporting of and caring for wounded and sick civilians … shall be respected and protected” (Article 20). Under no circumstances may medical personnel engaged in their legitimate duties be the object of an attack. The direct targeting of medical personnel constitutes a war crime.

Doctors, paramedics, ambulance drivers and other medical staff in Gaza are exhausted, and completely overwhelmed by the scale of deaths and injuries they are facing  day and night, struggling to treat even those with the most horrific and critical injuries, whilst on the frontline themselves.

“We know there are still many people we cannot reach, because some areas are too dangerous, and our ambulances are being deliberately targeted by the Israelis” says Khalid Sa’ada, who speaks calmly, like a man who has already seen the worst. But despite the risks to their lives, every day he and his exhausted, dedicated colleagues continue working, and witnessing the bloody carnage of indiscriminate Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians.  “Yesterday, at about ten o’clock in the morning, we were in Tal Il Zaatar in Jabliya” he says. “As I was driving, I saw a man walking down the street ahead. One moment later this man was struck by a missile that tore his body in two in front of our eyes. The situation here in Gaza is unbelievable – but we are still doing the best we can – because, as I told you, this is our duty.”

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