As Israel attempts to quell two weeks of violence by ramping up security in East Jerusalem, Palestinian and Israeli first responders are determined to carry on providing care for the wounded – even if it means placing themselves in danger.
Photos by Oren Ziv. Story by Annie Slemrod in Jerusalem
New checkpoints and concrete blocks at the entrances to neighbourhoods in Palestinian East Jerusalem are one major concern for the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
“It’s not going to be easy [to treat patients in those neighbourhoods], and we don’t know what will happen," PRCS spokeswoman Erab Fuqaha told IRIN from Ramallah.
Beginning early this month, a series of attacks by Palestinians in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank, and Israel has left seven Israelis dead. The Palestinian health ministry reports that 32 Palestinians have been killed – including assailants – by Israeli security forces, largely in East Jerusalem and West Bank clashes.
In Palestinian Authority-controlled parts of the West Bank and much of East Jerusalem, it's the PRCS that zips to the scene of an incident on foot, motorbike, or ambulance. The Magen David Adom does a similar job in Israel, as well as – sometimes controversially – in East Jerusalem and areas of the West Bank the Israeli army controls.
MDA spokesman Yonatan Yagodovsky stressed that his EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and paramedics, which include both Israeli Jews and Arabs, will continue their work. “We’ll find a way to respond. We have the experience of very, very, very bad times, especially in Jerusalem, and we continue to provide service with additional precautions to make sure our teams are safe.”
At least 100 Israelis have been wounded since the start of this wave of violence, which has raised fears of a third Palestinian intifada (uprising). The current unrest, the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since last year's war in Gaza, was sparked by disagreements over access to the Temple Mount, a Jerusalem site holy to both Muslims and Jews. The attacks on civilians inside Israel call to mind the second Palestinian intifada, set off by a 2000 visit Ariel Sharon paid to the site as part of his successful campaign for prime minister.
While they're worried about the new restrictions, PRCS complains that its work has already been hampered by Israeli security. Fuqaha said ambulances had seen delays at checkpoints, been denied entry to parts of Jerusalem, and been hit by live fire or rubber bullets. She added that two patients were arrested out of the back of ambulances inside Jerusalem.
As a result, some East Jerusalem residents have become fearful of accepting transport to hospital: “In Jerusalem, people are telling our staff, 'we don’t want to be taken to the hospital, just give us first aid here'.”
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told IRIN that ambulances were having no trouble accessing East Jerusalem, and this would remain the case under the new security measures. “The city is open to all emergency vehicles coming in and out of all areas in order to respond… and our police officers even offer an escort if it is necessary.”
He said he was not familiar with allegations of Palestinians being arrested from the backs of ambulances, but added: “if there are potential suspects [in an ambulance], they go through security checks. That is standard. We wouldn't want a terrorist or a terror suspect to go into a hospital and carry out an attack.”
Inside Israel, MDA has drawn some criticism after its director, Eli Bein, told a local radio station that it may treat assailants before victims. "I don't have the privilege to come and sort out the wounded," he said. "The rule of the Magen David Adom is to treat the most seriously wounded person who is in life-threatening danger."
The PRCS reports treating 3,500 people in Jerusalem and the West Bank for conflict-related injuries since the violence erupted at the start of October, including the effects of tear gas, rubber bullets, and live fire. Fuqaha says her staff are overworked but will forge on.
See also: Film: Gaza fire