Nurse or Terrorist?

On August 20, 2018, Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) acknowledged that one of its nurses, Hani Majdalawi, opened fire on Israeli troops stationed along the Gaza border. MSF stated, “MSF is working to verify and understand the circumstances regarding this extremely serious incident, and is not able to comment further at this stage.” Operating as a combatant while posing under the cover of the legal protection for medical workers is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions. It is also a grave abuse of humanitarian principles under which MSF is bound.

In addition to working at MSF, Hani Majdalawi’s Facebook profile lists that he previously worked at Oxfam Great Britain, American Friends Service Committee, and the Youth Empowerment Center – Palestine.

Research or Propaganda?

This incident comes at a time when MSF has increased its politicized activity regarding Israel. In the months prior, MSF accused Israel of serious crimes and human rights abuses regarding the violence along the Israel-Gaza border.

Careful analysis of these reports reveals that MSF uses emotive narratives in place of factual information about medical injuries and treatment.

For example, in an April 2018 post, MSF claims that its teams in Gaza observed “unusually severe and devastating gunshot injuries” (emphasis added) that caused “an extreme level of destruction to bones and soft tissue, and large exit wounds that can be the size of a fist.”

In the unfortunate reality of armed conflicts, bone and tissue damage, as well as large exit wounds are consistent with most gunshot injuries. Medical practitioners familiar with conflict zones are well aware of this medical fact. MSF’s suggestion that the severity of such wounds is unique and unexpected is political propaganda.

However, reflecting MSF’s influence among journalists and others, these claims were incorporated into an Associated Press (AP) article and a dubious editorial by Al Jazeera; both alleged that Israel was using “explosive rounds.”

(Following sharp public criticism of these baseless claims, the AP eventually removed its reference to explosive bullets and noted that the described wounds were not, in fact, exceptional. The full article was also removed from the New York Times.)

The Al Jazeera article quotes Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, head of MSF in the West Bank and Gaza, claiming that “… our clinics have injuries where the bullet has literally destroyed tissue after having pulverized the bone.” Yet, as noted, destroyed tissue and serious bone damage are common to most gunshots wounds.

Al Jazeera also used Ingres’ testimony to falsely accuse Israel of using “Explosive rounds… banned internationally under the 1899 Hague Convention because of the ‘unnecessary injury and suffering caused from large bullet wounds.’”1

While AP and the New York Times eventually examined and then rejected these claims (as discussed above), MSF doubled-down on its tendentious political advocacy, releasing videos accusing Israel of orchestrating a “bloodbath.”

The grave violation of IHL by one of its employees and MSF’s counterproductive political campaigns demand an immediate independent investigation. Past practice has shown that NGOs are not capable of investigating themselves when facing similar scandals (i.e. World Vision, Islamic Relief, Oxfam/Save the Children abuse scandals, etc.). In addition, as a humanitarian and medical NGO, MSF must immediately halt all one-sided advocacy.