Daily life under occupation in Hebron: Israeli military denies Red Crescent ambulance access to Tel Rumeidah to evacuate a Palestinian patient
A week after soldiers, Border Police officers and settlers harassed the Abu Shamsiyeh family, on 16 June 2019, ‘Imad Abu Shamsiyeh suffered a sunstroke. At around 3:00 A.M., after his fever went up dramatically, Fayzeh Abu Shamsiyeh called for an ambulance to take her husband to hospital.
In a testimony she gave B'Tselem that day, Fayzeh Abu Shamsiyeh, 45, a married mother of five, described what happened next:
When I called for the ambulance, it was exactly 3:00 A.M.. I waited and waited, but the ambulance didn’t come. In the meantime, I put cold compresses on my husband to bring down the fever. I was very worried. I thought about going out to the street, but there were a lot of soldiers there, and I was afraid. In the end, I called the call center again, and the operator told me they were trying to get to us, but the army was holding up the ambulance near a-Sahala Square (Gross Square), near Tel Rumeidah.
I called Samer Zahdeh, the chief of security for the Old City of Hebron Committee, who lives near a-Shuhada Street. He told me he was monitoring the situation and waiting for the ambulance near the street.
Paramedic and ambulance driver, Radwan al-Ja’bri, 40, a married father of three, spoke about what happened in the interim in a testimony he gave B'Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 17 June 2019:
At around 3:00 PM, I got a call to pick up a patient with a high fever that could not be brought down at home. Sami al-Ja’bri, 24, and I were at the emergency headquarters. It’s in Area H2, near the Giv'at Ha’avot settlement. We set out in the direction of a-Sahala Street. There were dozens of soldiers on the street, near Haram al-Ibrahimi (Tomb of the Patriarchs). I knew the military requires us to coordinate through the Red Cross in order to get to Tel Rumeidah, but I realized it would take a very long time and that we may not even get approval, so I advanced with the ambulance, and then the soldiers signaled to us to continue toward the gate near a-Sahala Square (Gross Square). We drove there, stopped the ambulance, and waited in the hopes they’d let us continue driving on a-Shuhada Street until the patient’s home in Tel Rumeidah. About 20 minutes later, an officer told us we couldn’t go through and ordered us to turn around.
We were in touch with the operator at the Red Crescent main call center in Ramallah, who was in touch with the patient’s family. We decided to take a detour and arrive on foot.
The ambulance drove back to Giv'at Ha’avot and from there, took a long detour until Bab a-Zawiya Checkpoint (HaShoter Checkpoint), which it reached at around 4:00 A.M.. Samer Zahdeh from the Old City Committee met the ambulance there.
When the paramedics tried to cross the checkpoint, the soldiers were initially reluctant to let them through. Following an argument, the soldiers finally allowed paramedic Sami al-Ja’bri and Samer Zahdeh to cross on foot with a gurney. Radwan al-Ja’bri, the other paramedic and ambulance driver, waited at the checkpoint.
In a testimony he gave on 27 June 2019, Samer Zahdeh, 33, married and father of four, a security official in the Old City, said:
The ambulance got to the checkpoint at around 4:00 A.M.. Sami, the paramedic, and I took the gurney out and asked the soldiers to let us cross on foot to get the patient. They were hesitant at first, but after a short argument, they let us through.
We pushed the gurney up the street to ‘Imad Abu Shamsiyeh’s house. By the time we got there, it was about 4:15 A.M.
‘Imad had a very high fever, and he was hallucinating. We transferred him from the bed to a chair, carried him out on the chair, and put him on the gurney. His wife and son, Saleh, came with us.
Walking back to the checkpoint on the steep slope wasn’t easy. We proceeded very carefully. Sami was holding the gurney at the top, and I was holding it at the bottom. We kept worrying it would slip out of our hands and roll down the street.
We took the gurney through the narrow gate and put it in the ambulance. Radwan, the ambulance driver, was waiting for us there.
‘Imad Abu Shamsiyeh was taken to ‘Aliya Hospital in Hebron, where he received treatment to bring his fever down and released at around 5:30 A.M..
The Israeli military has been imposing draconian travel restrictions in Tel Rumeidah, and other Palestinian neighborhoods in Area H2 of Hebron, which is under Israeli control, for years. The restrictions, in conjunction with violence from security forces and settlers have turned Palestinians’ lives in the area into a nightmare. The military does not allow Palestinians to enter the neighborhood by car. Only pedestrian traffic is allowed.
There is no justification to prevent an ambulance en route to evacuate a patient from entering. This is yet another manifestation of the forces’ complete disregard for Palestinian lives. While this case may not be the worst known in Hebron, it does exemplify contempt for the health of a patient in need of urgent medical care and clearly illustrates the extent of Israel’s control over every aspect of the lives of Palestinian residents of the city and how the simplest of actions involves so much hassle, uncertainty, and mostly lack of control over the situation. All of this put together makes daily life unbearable.