West Bank medics given bulletproof vests after rise in attacks by Israeli forces

Bethan McKernan

The Guardian  /  July 19, 2023

Palestine Red Crescent Society says there were 193 incidents targeting healthcare staff and vehicles in 2023.

Medics working in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are being supplied with helmets and bulletproof vests after attacks on healthcare workers and ambulances by Israeli forces and Jewish settlers.

According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, there were 193 incidents targeting staff and vehicles in 2023 – a 310% increase compared with the same period last year. Violence has been increasing steadily in the region since March 2022, when the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) began launching near-nightly raids on the West Bank towns of Nablus and Jenin in response to a spate of deadly terror attacks against Israelis.

Recorded attacks include being targeted with live ammunition and steel-coated rubber bullets, both before reaching patients and during treatment, and the obstruction of ambulances trying to access or transport the wounded.

The tally does not include this month’s Israeli operation in Jenin, the biggest IDF action in the West Bank in 20 years. A total of 12 Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in the fighting, and there were reports of ambulances being targeted by live fire and blocked from reaching the wounded.

In a statement, the IDF denied its forces prevented Palestinian medics from carrying out their work. It said: “The IDF allows free access to medical teams throughout [the West Bank]. Moreover, during counter-terrorism activities, dialogue is held with Palestinian officials, with the aim of bringing to their attention potential risks, thereby helping to prevent harm to non-combatants, among them medical teams stuck in combat areas that are subject to indiscriminate gunfire from armed terrorists.”

The Palestinian Red Crescent started equipping employees and volunteers with protective gear earlier this year, but has struggled with funding and importing body armour into the West Bank.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a UK-based charity, is more used to providing medicines, equipment and trauma training for Palestinian medical staff and paramedics, but said this week that at the Red Crescent’s request it would provide the Palestinian branch of the organization with a further 20 sets of bulletproof vests and helmets, at a cost of £18,500.

Ahmed Jibril, the head of the emergency and ambulance department at the Red Crescent branch in Nablus, said: “With the increasing risks faced by our teams, most recently seen in Jenin, these bulletproof vests and helmets will provide a crucial layer of protection, allowing our teams to continue saving lives and providing essential medical services in the face of adversity.”

Melanie Ward, MAP’s director, said: “We have taken this unprecedented step in response to an urgent call from Palestinian health workers for protection from the violence they face in the line of duty. No health worker should have to risk their life to save others.”

Both risks for medical staff and the need for emergency medicine are on the rise: Israel and the West Bank are experiencing the bloodiest year on record since the end of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in 2005. More than 157 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the start of 2023, and 26 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis, according to figures collated by rights groups.

In the 2000–2005 Second  Intifada, the Red Crescent says 12 Palestinian medics were killed in the line of work.

Bethan McKernan is Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian