Repeated and apparently illegal attacks by the Israeli army on health facilities, medical personnel and medical transports continue to destroy the health system in the Gaza Strip and should be investigated as possible war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. On November 5, the Israeli army denounced “Hamas’ cynical use of hospitals”; nevertheless, no evidence of this practice would justify depriving hospitals and ambulances of the protection that should be afforded to them under international humanitarian law.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that as of November 12, at least 521 people, including 16 medical staff, had been killed in 137 “attacks on health care” in Gaza. Alongside Israel’s decisions to cut off electricity and water, and block the delivery of humanitarian aid, these attacks have seriously hampered access to health care in Gaza. On November 10, the United Nations reported that two-thirds of primary care facilities and half of all hospitals in Gaza were not functioning, even as the number of seriously injured patients was particularly high. Hospitals are short of medicines and basic equipment; Doctors told Human Rights Watch that they were forced to operate without anesthesia and to use vinegar as an antiseptic.
“Israel’s repeated attacks, which have damaged hospitals already hard hit by the illegal blockade, and put medical professionals at risk, have devastated Gaza’s health infrastructure,” said Special Adviser A. Kayum Ahmed. on the right to health at Human Rights Watch. “Strikes on hospitals have killed hundreds of people, and threatened the health of many patients who can no longer receive appropriate medical care. »
Between October 7 and November 7, Human Rights Watch investigated attacks on or near five health facilities in Gaza: the Indonesian Hospital, al-Ahli Hospital, the International Eye Care Center, the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital and al-Quds Hospital. Human Rights Watch conducted telephone interviews with two displaced people who took refuge in hospitals in Gaza, and 16 staff members at those hospitals; Human Rights Watch also analyzed and verified data from public sources, including videos posted on social media and satellite images, as well as WHO databases.
Israeli forces struck the Indonesian Hospital several times between October 7 and 28, killing at least two civilians. The International Eye Care Center was hit several times and completely destroyed after a strike on October 10 and 11. On October 30 and 31, strikes hit the compound and surrounding areas of the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital; the damage suffered as well as the lack of fuel for the hospital’s generators led to its closure on November 1. Repeated Israeli strikes damaged al-Quds Hospital, and injured a man and a child in front of the hospital. Israeli forces also repeatedly struck ambulances, killing and injuring at least a dozen people in an incident on November 3, including children, in front of al-Shifa Hospital.
These incidents were not isolated cases. Israeli forces also carried out numerous strikes damaging several other hospitals across Gaza. The WHO reported that as of November 10, 18 of 36 hospitals and 46 of 72 primary care clinics had been forced to close their doors. The forced closure of these facilities is a result of the damage caused by the attacks, as well as the lack of electricity and fuel.
Hospitals and other medical facilities are civilian objects with special protections under international humanitarian law (law of war). Hospitals only lose their protection from attack if they are used to commit “acts harmful to the enemy”, and after receiving and then ignoring a warning by enemy forces. Ordering patients, medical staff and others to evacuate a hospital should only be used as a last resort. Medical personnel must be protected and allowed to do their work.
The Israeli army claimed on October 27 that Hamas uses hospitals as “terrorist infrastructure,” releasing images of Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa Hospital. Israel also alleged that Hamas was using the Indonesian Hospital to hide an underground command and control center and that it had deployed a rocket launch pad 75 meters from the hospital.
These claims are disputed; Human Rights Watch was unable to corroborate them. But even if proven, Israel has not demonstrated that its attacks on hospitals were proportionate.
The Israeli government should immediately end illegal attacks on hospitals, ambulances and other civilian objects, as well as its total blockade of the Gaza Strip, which amounts to the war crime of collective punishment, Human Rights Watch said. Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups should take all possible precautions to protect civilians under their control from the effects of attacks, and not use civilians as “human shields.”
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel should investigate apparently illegal Israeli attacks on health infrastructure in Gaza.
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over ongoing hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups. According to the Rome Statute of the ICC, “intentionally directing attacks against…medical units and transports” is a war crime.
This article is originally published on .hrw.org