On June 26, 2015, three highly political non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Medical Aid for Palestinian (MAP), Al-Mezan, and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR), released “No More Impunity: Gaza’s Health Sector Under Attack.” The publication alleges the “destruction of and damage to medical infrastructure and loss of life and injury to civilians and medical personnel” during the 2014 Gaza conflict.
Like previous publications from these NGOs, “No More Impunity” is characterized by one-sided accounts, a total lack of verifiable sources, and lack of context.
More disturbingly, MAP and its partners erase the terror affiliations of three “paramedics” and “medical volunteers” who were apparently killed in an Israeli strike. Thus, they falsely accuse Israel of targeting ambulances, while ignoring Palestinian war crimes.
Misrepresenting Terrorists as an Innocent Medical Crew
This publication features an account of a Palestinian ambulance destroyed in an alleged drone strike on August 1, 2014. According to the account, the strike killed three medical personnel, four civilian bystanders, and an unidentified fatality. This is the prime example given in the report for attacks on ambulances and medical teams.
However, the NGO version hides a central fact: the three members of the ambulance crew –Atef Saleh Ibrahim Al Zamli, Yousef Ejme’an Nasrallah Al Sheikh Al Eid and Youssef Jaber Hassan Darabieh – were members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.
This omission is highly problematic. First, if the portrayal of terrorists as innocent medical workers was done due to lack of research capability, it serves as further evidence that the NGOs’ methodologies are unreliable and inaccurate.
Alternatively, the NGOs were aware of the affiliations of the individuals in the ambulance, but chose to disregard information that did not advance their anti-Israel political goals. In any case, one of the main points of the NGO narrative has been completely undermined.
Moreover, the use of a protected medical vehicle by members of a terrorist organization is a war crime. By using a marked ambulance, these terrorists violate a fundamental tenant of international humanitarian law that requires fighters to adopt distinctive emblems and separate themselves from the civilian population. The failure of MAP and its partners to acknowledge these abuses belies their claims as a credible humanitarian or human rights organizations.
The report also includes the emotional testimony of Jaber Hassan Darabieh, the father of one of the Islamic Jihad terrorists killed in the strike, again without mentioning the affiliation of his son. This anecdote acts as a further means to erase the criminal actions of Palestinian terror groups operating in Gaza, and again reflects the politicized nature of the publication.
Partners and Sources
The report’s methodology section credits a coalition of Palestinian NGOs for compiling the “evidence.” This coalition comprises Al-Mezan, Al Haq, Addameer, and Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) – all anti-Israel political advocacy NGOs that lack credibility on allegations concerning laws of war and do not possess reliable fact-finding methodologies.
In addition, political Israeli NGOs Breaking the Silence and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel are quoted with regards to specific attacks and rules of engagement. Neither has the research capacity or expertise to comment substantively on these issues.
Unverifiable and Anonymous Claims
“No More Impunity” contains numerous claims regarding alleged attacks on medical facilities and ambulances that are difficult or impossible to verify. Often, no sources are provided to corroborate these allegations, and at times, only anonymous sources are referenced. This faulty methodology is particularly egregious given the seriousness of the allegations directed at Israel, as well as the NGOs’ claims to methodological rigor.
- For example, sources for the following claims are listed “Source: Al Mezan,” and “Number provided by Al Mean (sic) from their own databases,” respectively.
- “Of the 10,670 persons injured during the attacks, including 2,647 children, more would have died without the efforts of paramedics and volunteer medical workers.”
- “Since 2000, 7,303 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military across Gaza, of which 2,232 were women and children.”
- Similarly, the report refers to unspecified “data collected by Al Mezan [that] identified 511 who died without receiving medical assistance due to obstruction to ambulance access.”
- The authors do not cite any sources regarding casualties in a strike on the Al-Aqsa Hospital, referring in a footnote only to “Subsequent crossing checking (sic) of information and assessments of the circumstances.” While this creates a façade of research methodology, there is a notable absence of details on who was responsible for the strike, who provided the original mistaken assessments, and whether the facility was being used to shield Hamas fighters.
- “Investigations into the incident initially provided details of three deaths taking place within the hospital itself. Subsequent crossing checking (sic) of information and assessments of the circumstances of the attack have shown that two people were attacked and killed in the hospital while two further people were attacked in homes and subsequently brought to the hospital.” (emphasis added)
- The report also claims that the Mebbaret Al Rahma Centre for People with Disabilities was attacked on July 12. However, no citations regarding this incident are provided, despite claims of casualties. This severe lack of information makes it impossible to ascertain whether the damage to the center was a result of an Israeli attack or due to a Hamas rocket. Similarly, no context is provided that might explain why the facility was targeted by the IDF, if this is in fact the case.
Erasing Allegations of Hamas Abuse of Hospitals and Medical Centers
“No More Impunity” deliberately chooses to ignore evidence that Hamas used hospitals in order to launch rockets, locate command centers, and torture prisoners. Although these abuses constitute severe war crimes and were the primary reason civilians were injured and killed in Gaza, they are only addressed laconically in the report:
“The Israeli military claims that there were instances where civilian infrastructure was targeted because it was being used for military purposes. Allegations that civilian infrastructure has been used for military purposes warrant a thorough and independent investigation.” This sole and passing mention of the most fundamental legal and factual issue during the war demonstates the NGOs’ failure to provide an accurate picture of the fighting in Gaza, in particular information that exonerates Israel and justifies its actions in Gaza. In other words, these organizations are not providing credible research, but rather propaganda.
For example, when discussing the IDF attack on Al-Wafa Hospital, MAP and the other NGOs accuse Israel of “bombardment” and “constant shelling”. Yet, no mention is made of the Israeli allegations that this compound was used as a Hamas command center, rocket launching site and weapons cache, or that IDF soldiers were fired upon from terrorists located in the hospital.
So-called “Double-tap Attacks”
The report alleges that ambulances were often subject to so-called “double-tap” attacks, referring to an initial Israeli strike, followed shortly thereafter by successive attacks.
- “On Friday, 1 August 2014, an ambulance from the Palestinian Ministry of Health was hit by a drone strike after arriving at Al Bir Wal Taqwa mosque in Msabbeh neighbourhood in the north of Rafah to evacuate individuals injured by an earlier missile strike. This was a clear example of the danger ‘double tap’ attacks pose to ambulance crews.”
The lack of citation makes verification difficult. Similarly, there is no explanation regarding the purpose of the initial missile strike, or the subsequent ones. Furthermore, no mention is made of coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to receive approval to enter the area. Palestinian ambulance drivers have been quoted as saying that at times they entered restricted zones without receiving the proper authorization.1
- A Palestinian paramedic, Yousef Al Kahlout , was quoted as saying, “Normally we follow strictly the rule: ‘protect yourself, protect the place.’ We wouldn’t go out without coordination. But this time too often coordination took ages or failed to arrive, so we were going out in any case, even if we were aware that we were putting our lives at risk… very often we couldn’t wait and just went off.” See, Jutta Bachmann et al, “Findings of an Independent Fact-Finding Mission: Gaza 2014,” PHR-I et al, https://gazahealthattack.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/gazareport_eng.pdf. p. 48 (accessed: July 1, 2015).