Contextual Content

Gaza war crimes: Medics die trying help casualties

Guardian: Israeli military says medical staff ‘take the risk upon themselves’ Pt.3


Story Transcript

VOICEOVER: International law states that medical workers and ambulance drivers tending to the wounded must not be targeted under any circumstances. To do so is a war crime. In the 23-day attack on Gaza, the Israeli army is accused of ignoring that basic law of war, killing 16 medical workers and wounding a further 22. They also bombed 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals. In scenes like this one filmed on January 7, the ambulance men can be clearly seen trying to pick up the body of a man lying on the ground. The Israeli army continued to fire on them as they tried to run back to their ambulance. One of the medics is hit in the leg. Other paramedics told the Guardian how their ambulances had been directly targeted.

PARAMEDIC (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): They were carrying him and they got to about here. Then a rocket struck the ambulance.

VOICEOVER: Israel is a pioneer of precision weapons and a world leader in advanced optics. Their weapons have viewfinders that are so crystal clear that, according to the Israeli military themselves, they can see the color of a target’s clothes. So why were 38 medical workers killed or injured by the Israeli forces when they had the technology to see exactly who they were hitting? On January 4, ambulance drivers ["YEH-sur"] and ["HA-zen"] were two of five medics called out to an olive grove to collect the wounded.


MEDIC: Three-thirty in the afternoon. Between 3:00, 3:30 in the afternoon.

VOICEOVER: As they tried to help the injured men, a helicopter gunship opened fire on them.

MEDIC: A helicopter opened fire with its machine gun and started spraying the area. Look at the bullets here. I went running to see what had happened and found my colleagues in pieces. Our colleagues were all wearing their medical uniforms. They could be seen as clear as day. The ambulances were clearly visible. Our sirens were flashing, and the lights were on.

VOICEOVER: The Israeli army uses a sophisticated computer targeting system in their helicopters. It relies on the crew actually being able to see their targets before they open fire. The helicopter was that close, and yet it killed three medics wearing bright orange vests in the middle of the day.

MEDIC: We tried to flee, but as we drove away in the ambulance, they continued to fire directly at us. Medical workers across the world should not be targeted by any military and should be respected in any place they are operating in.

VOICEOVER: These men, veteran medics, are still in shock.

MEDIC: Our colleagues’ bodies were thrown all over the place. Another rocket had landed here, and another had landed in that direction. One of our friends’ faces had been blown off and it was found over there.

MEDIC: These are the remains of the rocket that was fired at my colleagues while they were trying to save the lives of innocent people. Our colleagues didn’t deserve to die. They were clearly unarmed. They were clearly not resistance fighters or anything like that. We came to help the wounded. We left without our friends. May God bless their souls.

VOICEOVER: For two days, the crew tried repeatedly to collect their colleagues’ remains, but each time, they came under fire from Israeli forces. It’s not just ambulance crews that have been targeted by the Israeli military. During the assault on Gaza, Israeli forces bombed over half of Gaza’s hospitals, 15 in all, and damaged a further 44 clinics, destroying two of them completely. The Israeli military had been given all the coordinates of these hospitals and clinics by the UN, but somehow they managed to hit 59 medical facilities. Did one of the world’s most sophisticated armies get it wrong 59 times? Or did they not care who they hit in their search for Palestinian rocket launchers and fighters? Again, the laws of war state that the response must be proportionate to the threat. Dr. Mahmoud works in Al-Quds Hospital. He was there when it was shelled with white phosphorous, a toxic chemical that burns through anything it touches. On an average day, there are 30 children in this nursery.

MAHMOUD, DOCTOR: I was in the theater—I am a plastic surgeon in the plastic surgery unit—when shout, "Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!" When we finished this operation, we go out to the road and we look about. We see the fire here. Broken down from all the building here. F-16, Apache all around us.

VOICEOVER: The 300 people in the hospital, including the critically ill, were forced to flee on foot while still coming under attack.

MAHMOUD: We walk, we walk, because we don’t know what happen after. We thinks maybe all of the building there was a fire. And we thought we’d walk [inaudible]

VOICEOVER: The Israeli army says it has now launched an extensive investigation into its conduct during the offensive and is looking into allegations that hospitals were targeted. In the past, Israel has accused Palestinian fighters of hijacking ambulances and taking refuge in hospitals. But international law is clear: hospitals and medical staff may not be targeted unless they themselves are directly involved in the fighting. On January 4, the same day as the helicopter attack in the olive grove, a second ambulance crew was hit. This time they were shelled by a tank.

MEDIC: These are the nails from the nail bomb that killed my friend Arafa Abd-al-Dayem, God rest his soul.

VOICEOVER: Khaled and his two colleagues, Arafa and Al’a, were responding to five civilians critically injured by an Israeli tank shell.

MEDIC: I saw my colleagues bringing back a wounded man who had lost both his legs. They were carrying him and got to about here. Then a rocket struck the ambulance. At that moment, I had my hand on the door, ready to jump out and help them. Then I found myself outside the ambulance. I checked to see if I was hurt. I touched my head and realized I was bleeding, but I was conscious and able to keep going.

VOICEOVER: The ambulance had been hit by a tank shell packed with 8,000 tiny nails, called flechettes. Arafa’s body was filled with these nails.

MEDIC: I came round here and found Arafa kneeling down with his hands in the air and praying to God. They found his body full of these nails. The guy that had been brought to the ambulance was in pieces. He was now missing his head and both his legs. I was hysterical and started running back and forth. I didn’t know what to do.

VOICEOVER: He raised the alarm, but the first ambulance workers on the scene turned back, fearing they too would be targeted.

MEDIC: I cannot forget what happened to my colleagues. I will never forget them. I will never forget them. I think about them 24 hours a day.

VOICEOVER: With a total of 38 medics killed or injured and 59 hospitals or medical clinics hit, some completely destroyed, we asked the Israeli army why this was necessary. They declined our request for an on-camera interview but provided us with this written statement:

VOICEOVER: "The IDF does not target medics or other medical staff. As a part of their training, IDF soldiers receive instructions on identifying and avoiding injury to medical staff on the battlefield. However, in light of the difficult reality of warfare in the Gaza Strip, carried out in urban and densely populated areas, medics who operate in the area take the risk upon themselves.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.