There is mounting evidence that Israeli ambulance crews are withholding treatment from Palestinians injured during a wave of attacks over the past six months, according to rights groups.
Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, a medical watchdog group, found that wounded Palestinians had been left untreated for as long as two hours.
In some cases, medical teams are suspected of failing to tend to the injuries of suspected attackers as revenge, in the expectation that they will die from their wounds.
In parallel, says the group, Israeli soldiers regularly deny Palestinian crews in the occupied territories access to injured Palestinians in violation of international agreements. Palestinian ambulances have been regularly fired on and paramedics attacked as they tried to reach the scene.
Physicians for Human Rights accused Israel’s leading medical bodies – the Israeli Medical Association, which lays down ethical codes, and Magen David Adom, which supervises ambulance services – of ignoring the evidence it has collected of such abuses.
Israel should be removed from the [International Committee of the] Red Cross for these violations until it is prepared to follow internationally accepted codes of conduct.
“We have seen no serious response to our complaints, no investigations, not even an attempt to meet us. They don’t appear to want to give answers,” Mor Efrat, a researcher for the rights group, told Al-Jazeera.
Concern that some ambulance crews are adopting a policy of denying Palestinians treatment has been heightened by the increasing role of medical teams located in illegal Jewish settlements.
These paramedics appear to be openly flouting internationally established principles of neutrality that all medical staff are supposed to observe.
In December the leaders of United Hatzalah, a settler ambulance service implicated in several cases in which Palestinians have been refused treatment, visited a leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Chaim Kanievsky, to receive instructions on what to do with Palestinians injured during attacks.
According to a report on the settlers’ website Israel National News, Kanievsky told them that if the injured Palestinian “was in a life-threatening condition, they should leave him or her to die”. Other rabbis have made similar calls.
The issue of Israel’s treatment of injured Palestinians was thrust into the spotlight late last month when a soldier from the Israeli army’s medical corps was caught on video executing a badly injured Palestinian in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, aged 21, had been shot and wounded during a suspected knife attack on a checkpoint. Before the medical corps soldier, identified as Sergeant Elor Azaria, executed him by firing a bullet into his head, al-Sharif was left bleeding on the ground for more than 10 minutes.
Both army medics and two civilian ambulance teams, one of them United Hatzalah, refused to treat him. After the video was publicised, Sgt Azaria was arrested.
On Monday, an Israeli military court charged the soldier with manslaughter and inappropriate military conduct. However, there has been an outpouring of support for him, from the Israeli public, politicians and rabbis. Efrat, of Physicians for Human Rights, said the failure by both the Israeli Medical Association and Magen David Adom to speak out against abuses committed by Israeli medical staff created the climate that made possible the events in Hebron.
Leonid Eidelman, head of the Israeli Medical Association, told Al-Jazeera the criticisms were “unfair” and that his organisation had “stated clearly that no political or personal preferences should influence treatment” of wounded Palestinians.