International Law

Jabalia medics, evacuated from their targetted ambulance station, waiting on street for calls. Their old bullet-proof vests are too heavy to for most to work effectively in. Pic by Mohammed Rujailah

Jabalia medics, evacuated from their targetted ambulance station, waiting on street for calls. Their old bullet-proof vests are too heavy to for most to work effectively in. Pic by Mohammed Rujailah

Click here for the basics regarding the protection of civilians and medical personel and resources under international law… the document is easy to read and understand: International Humanitarian Law, April 2011: Summary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols

International Law – (draft version which needs to be completed with sources included)

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is founded on the desire to alleviate the suffering caused by war. To this end, IHL – and the Fourth Geneva Convention in particular – specifically protects medical facilities and those persons engaged in the search for, and care of, the wounded and sick.

Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention requires that medical facilities be respected and protected: in no circumstances may they be the object of an attack. Article 20 explicitly requires that “persons engaged in the search for, removal, and transporting of and caring for wounded and sick civilians … be respected and protected.”

IHL also places an obligation on all Parties to a conflict, to “facilitate the steps taken to search for the killed and wounded”. This is a pressing, positive obligation. As far as the military situation allows, medical and relief personnel must be allowed to carry out their work.

As non-combatants, IHL grants medical and relief personnel the same rights, protection, and immunity as civilians. They must be spared the effects of hostilities to the greatest extent possible, and they may not be directly targeted; doing so constitutes the crime of wilful killing and amounts to a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.

As High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, all States are under a legal obligation to ensure respect for the Conventions in all circumstances. The individual States of the international community are thus under an obligation to hold accountable those who violate the fundamental principles of IHL.

From “Gaza Beneath the Bombs” (Pluto Press, 2010)

The Fourth Geneva Convention states that “Medical personnel of all categories shall be allowed to carry out their duties.”

Over the last decade the Israeli military has, instead of allowing ambulances and paramedics to reach wounded civilians as a right, instituted a system whereby the Red Cross acts as a “coordination mechanism” for the “entrance of important vehicles into areas of Israeli control. These vehicles [include] ambulances of the Ministry of Health or the Palestine Red Crescent Society.”

This co-ordination involves both sides using the same types of satellite maps to determine exact positions. According to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR):

“In case of need, a request to access a controlled area is first directed to the ICRC, which informs the Israeli military (COGAT – Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories). This unit contacts the ground troops in the area, from where authorization or the refusal of authorization is then transmitted in the same way backwards.

In the beginning of the existence of this mechanism it took about one hour to get authorization or refusal. In October 2008 it took about five hours. During the recent attacks the time increased to sometimes more than one day. It took four days to reach the attacked area of Al Zeitoun.”

The Gaza Red Cross also told PHR that “there was never a clear definition of areas where ‘co-ordination’ would be required’ and as a result there were many cases during Operation Cast Lead when ambulances were turned back for not having IDF authoritisation. PHR stated that in total 160 requests for authoritisation were received during Cast Lead and that the ICRC will analyse these,but the results will only be discussed with the Israeli authorities and will not be made public. PHR also stated that 16 Red Crescent and 13 Gaza Ministry of Health ambulances were damaged during the invasion.

References: Physicians for Human Rights April 2009: ‘Independent fact-finding mission into violations of human rights in the Gaza Strip during the period 27.12.2008 – 18.01.2009’;

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2 Responses to “International Law”

  1. Naazly Patel Says:

    My name is Naazly,I am from South Africa,I would love to Volunteer in Palestine,However I am muslim,would I need a Mahram to travel to another muslim country e.g my father,brother,husband..?would the Palestinian embassy allow me to travel by myself or maybe with a volunteer group? Do I need a Mahraam?

    • defendtherescuers Says:

      Hi Naazly, we are not Muslim so we don’t know about the Mahraam arrangement, but we think in Palestine it is not necessary unless you choose it. Israel controls all the borders into Palestine, and they have Jews, Muslims and Christians crossing their borders as well as many other religions, so you should be fine there at least from a religious viewpoint, they will not require you to be accompanied. When you enter into the West Bank (Palestine), again Israel controls this crossing, as it does the checkpoints within the West Bank itself, so they do not have any Muslim requirements. It is fine for tourists of all religions to be in the West Bank, from a Palestinian point of view, so even if your papers are checked by Palestinian police within the West Bank, it is fine for you to be unaccompanied, Muslim women can travel freely alone in Palestine – some choose to travel with their relatives, but many are happy to travel alone and this is normal. If you contact a Muslim volunteering organisation that has a presence in Palestine they may be able to suggest a group you would like to travel with if you are more comfortable this way. Or you can contact a Palestinian women’s organisation who could welcome you if that helps. Good luck!

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