Friday, February 23, 2024

Did Israel’s dramatic raid on a West Bank hospital violate the rules of war?

It was still dark and many patients at Ibn Sina Hospital in the West Bank were still sleeping when the commandos arrived.

Israeli agents disguised as medical staff and patients took out their rifles, overpowered the hospital staff and headed towards room 376.

THE agents shot and killed the patient there – he had been injured months earlier in an Israeli airstrike – as well as his brother and a friend.

Israeli authorities said all three were part of a terrorist cell that took refuge in the medical center to plan an attack. Their families buried them draped in activist flags.

But the raid on Tuesday in the besieged city of Jenin has raised new questions about Israel’s wartime conduct – particularly its willingness to target civilian medical facilities.

A hospital staff member points out bullet holes in the room where disguised Israeli agents killed three patients at a West Bank facility. All three were shot at point blank range on Tuesday.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

Legal experts said it was likely that the hospital attack violated international laws governing conduct in war, including one that prohibits fighters from impersonating doctors or other civilians, and another which prohibits killing injured opponents.

They also pointed out that since Israel is not technically at war in the West Bank, these killings could be considered extrajudicial assassinations.

“There is very good reason to believe that this constitutes a war crime and perhaps even a crime against humanity,” said Heidi Matthews, an assistant professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

Since the start of the war on October 7, when Hamas waged the worst attack in Israeli history – killing around 1,200 people, around two-thirds of them civilians, according to Israeli authorities – the UN Human Rights Council has identified “clear evidence” of war crimes committed by both the military and Israeli and Hamas.

Israel is already under scrutiny as the International Court of Justice agreed to hear a case alleging it violated the genocide convention in its continued attack on the Gaza Strip, where Israel has frequently attacked schools and hospitals in what it sees as an attempt to root out Hamas fighters.

Health authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza say nearly 27,000 people have been killed there since October 7, most of them civilians.

A woman consoles herself by mourning the death of her two sons.

Areej Al-Ghazzawi is consoled Wednesday by the nurse who supervised the care of his slain son at Ibn Sina Hospital.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

The search at the hospital comes in a context of latent tensions the occupied West Bank, where hundreds of Palestinians were killed by security forces. Both Palestinians and Israelis fear that the fighting in Gaza will spread here.

Many Israeli counterterrorism operations have focused on the Jenin refugee camp, a collection of dilapidated buildings and narrow streets clustered on a hillside west of the city.

The camp was established in 1953 for Palestinians expelled from their homes around the city of Haifa during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. It now has a population of 22,000 and has become a symbol of Palestinian defiance.

For decades, Israel viewed the camp as a base for militants and a launching pad for attacks that killed Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Since October 7, Israeli forces have killed dozens of Palestinians in raids in Jenin, storming the camp in armored vehicles and even carrying out airstrikes.

For months, local leaders have complained that soldiers are illegally targeting civilian infrastructure, including medical centers.

It began with 30-minute searches of ambulances trying to reach hospitals, delaying them in reaching the scene of the clashes to evacuate the injured. More recently, medical staff said they were sometimes barred from entering hospitals.

A paramedic is searched by Israeli soldiers.

A paramedic is ordered by Israeli soldiers to empty the pockets of a patient with pants in an alley near Shifa Hospital in Jenin, December 2023.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

“Before, if I was at home and there was a downturn, I could drive my car to the hospital, day or night. Now I was going to be shot,” said Yasser Kilani, who heads the emergency department at Jenin State Hospital. “Even the ambulance can’t come get me.”

Hospital director Wissam Bakr showed a visiting reporter the doors of the facility, where bullets from nearby clashes had left marks in the concrete walls. As he walked up the stairs, he pointed to where a sniper shot had gone through a window.

Tuesday’s raid in a crowded hospital ward constitutes a new escalation.

The raid was likely the work of the Mistaarvim, an Israeli infiltration unit whose name translates to “those who disguise themselves as Arabs.” Members of the unit look, speak and dress like Arabs to infiltrate protests and carry out assassinations.

The commandos were dressed as doctors, nurses and patients. One was dressed as a woman wearing a headscarf and holding a package meant to resemble a baby. Another was sitting in a wheelchair. When they reached the third floor, they pulled out assault rifles from under their clothes, according to surveillance video. Hospital staff said there was no exchange of gunfire and that all three men in room 376 were shot in the head with silenced pistols.

Blood stains remained on the ceiling a day later and bullet holes were visible in two beds and a chair. Other evidence of the attacks had been cleaned up.

Dr. Tawfiq Shobaki, a hospital spokesman, said staff had been treating 18-year-old Basel Ghazawi since October, when an Israeli airstrike caused a spinal injury that paralyzed his lower body .

“He was seriously ill and had a long and complex medical journey ahead of him,” Shobaki said, adding that because Ghazawi needed 24-hour assistance, hospital staff encouraged visits.

Al-Ghazzawi is consoled by community members as they mourn the death of his two sons.

Al-Ghazzawi is consoled by community members as they mourn the death of his two sons.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

The other two men killed were Ghazawi’s brother, Mohammed, 23, and a friend, Mohammed Jalamneh, 27. Israel said Jalamneh was planning an imminent attack, allegedly inspired by the October 7 Hamas attack.

The Israeli military said in a statement that the men were using the hospital as a hideout, but did not provide further details.

“For a long time, wanted suspects have been hiding in hospitals and using them as a base to plan terrorist activities and carry out attacks,” the statement said.

Legal experts have said activists inside a hospital who plan attacks could be considered legitimate targets.

But under international humanitarian law, it is illegal for a combatant to pose as a doctor – or any other non-combatant civilian. It is also illegal to kill a wounded and incapacitated fighter.

Janina Dill, co-director of the Institute of Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict at the University of Oxford, described the hospital raid as “a pretty blatant and significant challenge to international law.”

“Israel is not fighting, as it claims, under the letter of the law,” she said.

The three men killed during the hospital raid were buried the same day.

The next afternoon, Areej Ghazawi, the brothers’ mother, received dozens of mourners at her home. Relatives handed out cups of cardamom-flavored coffee and dates wrapped in foil.

She said her eldest son had been looking after Basel since he was injured in October.

“They were in the hospital for months,” she said. “My sons were supposed to be in a safe place.”

If Israeli authorities had wanted to arrest these men, she said, “they could have arrested them. Why did they shoot them in the head?

A group of women arrived, nurses who took care of Basel at the hospital. One of them held Areej Ghazawi while she sobbed.

People visit and pay their respects at a grave.

Friends Basel Al-Ghazzawi and Mohammad Al-Ghazzawi visit and pay respects at their graves after the brothers were shot dead by Israeli agents disguised as medical personnel.

(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

“He was sleeping,” she moaned.

The nurse pulled him closer and said, “They will be waiting for you at the entrance to heaven.” »

Linthicum has been reported in Jenin and Bulos in Beirut.

Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from



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