Israel shuts Palestinian health provider, Amnesty raises alarm

Palestinian medical workers receive Pfizer-BioNTecha vaccine against the Coronavirus at the Palestinian Medical center in the West Bank city of Dura on March 21, 2021. The Palestinian Authority received a limited number of vaccine doses that will be used for vaccination of medical staff and elderly citizens over the age of 75. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90

Israel’s move to shut down a key healthcare body in the occupied territories will have “catastrophic consequences” for Palestinians in need of medical attention, global rights group Amnesty International warned.

Israeli army forces raided the Palestinian Union of Health Workers Committee (UHWC) headquarters in Ramallah on Wednesday, breaking down the door, confiscating computers and memory drives, and issuing a military order forcing the office to close for six months.

The UHWC runs hospitals and health clinics for marginalised communities and has repeatedly been targeted by Israeli forces, Amnesty said.

Employees have faced harassment and arrest for the health providers’ alleged affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a political party with an armed wing.

“Israel’s shutdown of its headquarters will have major consequences for the provision of essential health services to thousands of Palestinians, a programme for women’s health that was at the headquarters has now stopped,” Saleh Higazi, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

‘Clear obligation’

He said “as the occupying power” Israel had “a clear obligation” under international law to protect the rights of all Palestinians – including their right to healthcare.

“So far they have completely failed to fulfil this responsibility throughout the global pandemic, pursuing a discriminatory COVID-19 vaccination policy,” Higazi said.

“Israeli authorities must immediately rescind the shutdown order and put an end to the harassment of health workers.”

He said the targeting of UHWC was part of a wider attack by Israel against Palestinian civil society organisations.

“Instead of criminalising organisations providing vital health services, the Israeli authorities should be ending their institutionalised discrimination and systematic oppression of Palestinians,” Higazi said.

Amnesty said UHCW has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 response in the occupied Palestinian Territories, raising awareness, offering public health guidance, and providing medical care to COVID-19 patients in its health facilities, as well as to hard-to-reach communities through mobile clinics.

More than 310,000 Palestinians have contracted COVID-19 and the virus has killed 3,500 of them.

The organisation also leads local advocacy efforts to improve the Palestinian health system.

Amnesty said this was not the first time that UHWC and its staff have been targeted by Israeli forces. Its Jerusalem office was shut down by Israeli authorities in 2015.

Its Ramallah office, which was shut down on Wednesday, was previously raided in October 2019 – when its finance director was arrested. In March two other members of staff were arrested.