Attacks on Palestinian hospitals are a red line we must not cross

The next time a Palestinian disguises himself as a journalist to attack Israelis, remember that Israelis do similar things.

The next time Palestinians hide weapons in a civilian ambulance, the next time a stabber disguises himself as a journalist, the next time Palestinians shoot rockets from near a United Nations building, remember that officers from Israel’s Yamam (Special Police Unit) disguised themselves as a woman in labor on a wheelchair entering a hospital in Hebron in order to arrest a wounded suspect and kill his relative.

A quick look at the coverage of the event shows that, at least according to the Israeli media, there is nothing problematic about this. Some news outlets even seemed to celebrate the great feat of arresting a wounded person as he lay in a hospital. Only Haaretz decided to provide a response to the event by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which stated: “Time and again Israeli security forces violate the special protection forded to hospitals and medical facilities. By doing so they are putting patients, hospital staff, and visitors at risk.” Ma’ariv, Mako, Walla!, NRG, and Ynet just don’t have the room for such criticism.

But this type of criticism is vital, whether in the context of a continual military occupation, in the context of perpetual attacks against Palestinians on different fronts, or in the context of collective punishment or Palestinian attacks on Israelis. We all have a clear interest that in a reality of bloodshed and fear, there will still be several red lines — a few positions and places that should have immunity.

This should apply, first and foremost, to anything having to do with the medical establishment: doctors, medics, ambulances, clinics and hospitals must not be attacked under any means, and we must not take advantage of them in order to hide weapons or use them as a military base. This goes for either side. The same must go for UN buildings, journalists, and others. The medical world, however, is top priority.

The arrest Wednesday night in Hebron’s Al-Ahly Hospital was a crime against all of our interests. The suspect in a stabbing that took place in Gush Etzion, Azam Azat Shalalda, was not hiding in the hospital — he was merely hospitalized there. And it’s not like he had much a choice.

One can still say that Palestinian fighters have no choice but to function underground and use questionable methods — just as members of the pre-state Jewish militants did when they fought against the British Mandate. On the other hand, the Shin Bet, IDF, and Yamam — who arrested Shalalada in the middle of a hospital in Hebron — could have waited for his release. They could have even raided his home in the middle of the night, as they do basically every night across the West Bank. They are the law, the regime. They have the option of using another way.

Instead they decided to disguise themselves as a pregnant woman and her family, and, as PHR stated, put patients, hospital staff, and visitors at risk. And not just at risk — they killed Shalalda’s uncle, Abdullah, while he was leaving the restroom who, according to the soldiers, “tried to attack them.” Nowhere did I see a claim that Abdullah was armed or posed a real threat to those who killed him. Bottom line: the soldiers dressed up as a patient, barged into the hospital, arrested a wounded man, and shot someone who likely posed no threat. I would be very surprised if anyone is put on trial for this.

The IDF Spokesperson turned my questions over to the Border Police spokesperson. This was their response:

“As the forces entered the room of the terrorist, a relative (and known Hamas member) got up toward the forces and yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ and attacked one of the soldiers while holding an unidentified object. Another soldier that recognized what was happened opened fire and neutralized him.” I asked whether among such a large group of soldiers, not one person could identify the “unidentifiable object.” The response: Abdullah was “neutralized and the soldiers exited.”

That’s it.

So the next time someone tells you Palestinians take advantage of hospitals to shoot rockets, the next time the media decries the cynicism of an enemy who knows no bounds — don’t justify it. Don’t say “who cares.” Just remember we do the exact same thing.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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