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Rights groups: Israeli ambulance rules discriminate

Nov. 19, 2009 4:16 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 7, 2010 5:02 P.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Human rights groups are calling on the Israeli government to cancel instructions preventing ambulances from entering Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem without a police escort.

According to Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulances “must wait in a Jewish neighborhood adjacent to the Palestinian neighborhood and may not enter it to transfer the injured or the sick person to the hospital until a police escort arrives, even in life threatening situations.”

In many cases, patients face long delays in receiving treatment, and must be transferred by their own family’s cars, risking complications or increased severity of illness, the rights advocates say.

In a news release on Thursday, Adalah said the procedures “violate the first rule in the work of emergency crews, which is to provide medical aid as soon as possible, and the state's obligation to ensure the life and physical well-being of each person under its authority.”

Further, the rules may amount to a violation of medical ethics and “may constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law,” the group added in a statement.

The Israeli Ministry of Health did not immediately return calls from Ma’an seeking comment.

Adalah, along with Physicians for Human Rights and the Al-Mezan Centre for Human rights sent an urgent letter to the Israeli Deputy Minister of Health and the Jerusalem Police Chief on 10 November demanding the cancellation of the guidelines.

Haneen Naamneh, the attorney working on the case for Adalah, said that the organization had not yet received a response to its letter, and is considering filing a legal petition over the matter.

The situation for Palestinians in Jerusalem is particularly dire, Naamneh said, because “There is no alternative.” The Palestine Red Crescent Society has only five ambulances in East Jerusalem, Naamneh said, which are often much farther away from Palestinian neighborhoods than their MDA counterparts.

The rights group noted that the instructions do not apply to Jewish settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem. MDA ambulances travel through Palestinian areas to reach settlements without any accompaniment, the group said.

Adalah gave the example of the settlement of Nof Tzion, located in the center of the Jabal Al-Mukaber neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem. Under the government instructions, MDA ambulances travel on the same road to reach the settlement as they would to reach Palestinians in the area, but are banned from evacuating Palestinians without are police escort.

Fuad Abu Hamed, the manager of the Clalit health clinic in the East Jerusalem town of Sur Bahir was quoted in the new release saying that ambulances are sometimes forced to wait more than our on the edge of the community. In one case, an ambulance sent to evacuate a person suffering an angina waited for more than two hours at the entrance of the town. Police claimed a violent fight prevented them from entering the area.

The instructions, however, are in effect even in times of calm. “When the MDA and police implement these procedures when dealing with emergency procedures, it’s all the more unreasonable,” Naamneh said.

Naamneh also said that since East Jerusalem is occupied territory, Israel also has specific obligations under international law. “We can’t forget that East Jerusalem is occupied. It’s not like giving services to residents of Tel Aviv. Israel has extra duties as the occupier to provide services to those under its control,” since Palestinians in Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens nor residents of Israel, the attorney said.

Rights advocates also say that police escorting ambulances violates patients’ privacy rights.

Reut Katz of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said in the news release, "The police escort of ambulances to transport patients coupled with their presence alongside medical staff during the treatment process also constitutes a flagrant violation of the privacy rights and medical confidentiality of the patient."
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