Gaza: Israel puts paramedics in its crosshairs

A destroyed Civil Defence ambulance is seen on a street following an Israeli military offensive on the Shujayeh neighborhood between Gaza City and the Israeli border, which has left more than 50 people dead in a blistering bombardment which began overnight, medics said on July 20, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Mohammed Abed)

By: Mohammed Suliman

Published Monday, July 28, 2014

Reham is used to not seeing her husband Ayed for several days on end. During war times, she rarely sleeps. Watching over her little children, she sits by her bed horrified as the radio blares out the news of an air-strike that hit somewhere north of Gaza, where she lives. The restless wife would soon try calling her husband, and more often than not, he didn’t pick up. Ayed would be busy evacuating the injured or rescuing the bodies of people who were killed in the aftermath of an Israeli shelling.

Gaza – Twenty-eight-year-old Ayed al-Buraey was a Palestinian paramedic from northern Gaza. After he finished his shift, Ayed would normally call his wife to assure her that he was safe. This time however, he did not call.

Ayed was killed on July 25 when Israeli forces shelled the ambulance he was in while he and his crew were on their way to evacuate the injured in Beit Hanoun. The shells struck the ambulance and set it on fire.

Hatem Shahin, a volunteer paramedic, was with the crew when the ambulance vehicle was shelled. He was injured in the attack but managed to get out of the ambulance and, with the help of few young men, walked to Beit Hanoun Hospital, where he was then taken to al-Awda Hospital in Jabaliya.

“We were heading to al-Masreyyeen Street to evacuate a few injured people stuck there. Once we entered the street, a shell hit our ambulance. I started shouting but couldn’t hear anything. The vehicle was ablaze. I crawled out of it and walked away,” 38-year-old Shahin told Al-Akhbar.

“When I arrived at the hospital, I was told that Jawad Bdeir [the ambulance driver] was also injured and that Ayed was killed. I was shocked,” Hatem said.

Since the start of its most recent onslaught on Gaza on July 8, Israeli forces have on several occasions attacked medical personnel, rescue teams and ambulances. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, Israeli forces have killed seven medical personnel and injured 16 others so far. Nearly 20 ambulance vehicles have been completely destroyed during the same period.

Israeli forces have also attack hospitals and medical staff such as Balsam hospital, Beit Hanoun hospital in Beit Hanoun, the Algerian hospital in Khan Younis and al-Wafa hospital, which finally collapsed after Israeli warplanes bombarded it several times.

”I came home to tell you I’m safe”

As the Palestinian death toll increased day by day, Ayed would rarely come back home to see his wife and two little children. On the few occasions he did manage to come back, he would take his four-month-old baby in his arms and fall asleep.

“I was always worried to death about him,” Reham said tearfully. “It was like I knew something wrong would happen to him. We rarely saw him, he came home only three times since the start of this war.”

“When I asked him about his work, he couldn’t even reply because of how tired he was. He only hugged the children and slept. He used to tell me, ‘I came back to tell you I’m safe, so don’t worry about me.’”

The ambulance vehicle in which Ayed was killed belonged to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. It was then removed from the street by an Israeli armored bulldozer, which put it on the side of the street. Shortly afterwards, another ambulance arrived at the scene in order to evacuate Ayed’s body. This time, the International Committee of the Red Cross coordinated its access to the area, but as soon as it came into the street, it was fired upon by the Israeli army and another medic was moderately injured.

In another incident, Israeli forces opened fire on medical personnel as they were evacuating a handicapped person from al-Qarara area in Khan Younis. They killed one paramedic. Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza reports: “As a result of the attack, a medic, Mohammed Hassan al-Abadla, 32, was injured when he was outside the vehicle. Under the fire, the ambulance driver drove away. Communication with the injured medic was cut and he stayed in the area for half an hour, during which he bled to death. The ICRC had to coordinate again for his fellow medics to reach him. They found him dead.”

Jihad Saleem, 43, is an ambulance officer from Gaza. He says although this has been his job for years, every time he receives a call informing him of a body to be picked up or an injured person to be rescued or a group of people to be evacuated, he feels his heart beat as if it was his first time all over again.

“When I see bodies torn to pieces, sometimes disemboweled, I think of them as my own family,” he told Al-Akhbar.

“We’re always stressed because of what we see and what we have to deal with. We always imagine this is our own family we’re going to save,” he explained, adding that it actually happened to one of his colleagues. “He went to save a group of people only to find out it was his brother’s house and four of the dead were his own nephews.”

Another paramedic, Ahmed Musallam, was injured while he was evacuating residents from a building that was going to be bombed. Even though Ahmed was hit by shrapnel in his leg, he refuses to let his injury stop him from doing his job.

“I just couldn’t sit at home despite the pain in my leg. It pains me much more to see these little children dying under the rubble and hear their mothers mourn over them. I had to come back here,” the 30-year-old told Al-Akhbar. “This is where I belong, and my people need me here.”

Israeli attacks on medical personnel, particularly paramedics, as well as the obstruction of medical access to the injured have been condemned by various human rights organizations in Gaza and described as “a serious violation of the International humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.”

Today Reham is completely distraught over Ayed’s loss. She described him as stubborn, saying he always refused sit at home. “He used to tell me, ‘If we all sat at home and didn’t go to work, who will save all these people?’”

“But now he’s [the one who] died and no one came to save him. My children and I will never see him again,” she said.

Follow Mohammed Suliman on Twitter | @imPalestine

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