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Human rights organisations are protesting at the arrest of two paramedics working for the Palestinian Medical Relief Society on 3 January in Nablus (Shechem) by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.
They were arrested at the entrance to the Al-Watan government hospital while transporting patients. The two men are Taher Kusa and Seras Kader. Both have been working for the society for a number of years. Mr Kader was released three days later.
The IDF had been conducting an arrest campaign in Nablus and other parts of the West Bank for a few days. Palestinian Medical Relief Society director Ghassan Hamdan relates that since 3 January soldiers have surrounded both of the city’s government hospitals, Al-Watan and Rafidiyeh.
“On Thursday, Kusa and Kader transported patients to the hospital a few times,” Dr Hamdan said. “At 4 pm, as Kusa was transporting another patient, IDF soldiers stopped their ambulance and asked the driver to bring the patients into the hospital. The soldiers approached Kusa, asked for his identity card, informed him that he was wanted [by the Israeli security forces] and arrested him. They laid him on the ground, cuffed his hands, and covered his eyes. When we found out what had happened we approached the IDF soldiers and told them that he was our employee. We asked why they had arrested him and were told: ‘He is a wanted man.’ A few hours later Kader was arrested, the same way.”
Dr Hamdan immediately called the International Committee of the Red Cross and Physicians for Human Rights so that they could put pressure on the IDF. “It was a particularly cold and rainy day, and the arrestees sat outside on the ground, bound, for hours,” he said.
“I called the IDF humanitarian centre to find out why members of a medical team were arrested while on duty, contrary to accepted practice,” said Miri Weingarten, codirector of Physicians for Human Rights’ Occupied Territories Project. “A few hours later they got back to me and said, ‘The arrests were justified.’ I complained about the manner of the arrests and the fact that the men were left outside for so many hours. Eventually they were allowed to go into a jeep. Now we’re trying to locate them via the Red Cross,” Ms Weingarten said, before Mr Kader’s release.
IDF soldiers are checking each patient or physician who enters or leaves. “It’s impossible to work freely when you know there are armed soldiers outside the door,” Dr Hamdan said. “It’s inhuman. In order to enter the hospital you have to go through the soldiers, to undergo an often humiliating security check. It prevents doctors from coming to the hospital to treat patients, and prevents patients from coming for treatment.
“If the IDF has specific information about an individual then let them make the arrest but not at the hospital, not on duty, not while he’s treating a patient,” Dr Hamdan said.
“What happened here is actually the opposite,” Ms Weingarten said. “They waited until the medical team was on duty, because then they could find them easily, and arrested them. It has become routine for the IDF to use the neutrality of medical facilities for its own needs, and that concerns us. It erodes the abilities of emergency teams to act, as well as the necessary trust between them and the patients.”
IDF sources confirmed the arrests as the BMJ went to press, saying the men were wanted by the General Security Service, but would not make any further comment.