The Military Police are investigating two complaints of violence by soldiers against Palestinian medical personnel in the West Bank, Haaretz learned Monday. In both cases the Palestinians claim that soldiers fired on ambulances that were evacuating wounded people, and both were reported over about a year ago. The delay in the army's investigation was due to a "technical" error, the IDF said.
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In a letter to Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, which submitted a series of complaints on the matter, Capt. Tiki Zuaretz of the military prosecution wrote that an investigation was initiated into incidents that occurred on October 2, 2015 and November 5, 2015. Complaints about other incidents were still being examined “in order to collect relevant information before making a decision about them.”
In the first complaint, paramedics from the Red Crescent, the Palestinian rescue service, alleged that security forces attacked them and removed a wounded person from the ambulance while he was receiving medical treatment.
According to the complaint, the ambulance was responding to a report that demonstrators had been injured in El Bireh during clashes with soldiers. After putting the man in the ambulance and starting to drive off, the complainants said, soldiers fired two bullets into the side of the vehicle. When it stopped, they said, members of the security forces opened the ambulance doors and removed the patient.
According to the Palestinians, a different policeman kicked one of the volunteers and then shut the ambulance door on the driver’s foot. Subsequently the soldiers fired in the air and threw stun grenades at the ambulance. Two members of the ambulance team later required treatment.
According to the second complaint, soldiers allegedly fired at a Red Crescent ambulance and attacked a paramedic, again in El-Bireh. In that incident the ambulance was standing at the ready during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security personnel. When the ambulance pulled closer to the site of the clashes, soldiers ordered it away towards the north, but after it drove northward, it got conflicting orders from other soldiers, who ordered it to drive south.
When the medical team explained to the soldier that they had received conflicting instructions, the complaint said, the officer in the area, “started to scream, inserted a rubber-tipped bullet into his rifle and pointed it at the front of the ambulance. Then he fired from a distance of a meter.” He then fired at the ambulance again, smashing one of its headlights, and ordered the paramedical team to get out of the vehicle. The Palestinians said that one paramedic was hit by the officer, who also cursed him.
Physicians for Human Rights submitted the complaints last December, but only received a response now. The letter from the military prosecution said, “Unfortunately the referenced letter, apparently due to a clerical error, was received by us only in May 2016,” over five months after the complaints were filed, raising questions about how seriously the military takes such complaints.
“The delay is significant,” said Mahmoud Abu Arisheh, lawyer and the director of the Occupied Territories Department of Physicians for Human Rights. “Until now no one in the Military Police had even asked us for the complainants’ contact information.”
In a response, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said the delay was caused by “technical problems” and that the investigations are continuing.