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Myth and Fact
Mitchell G. Bard


"Israel prevents Palestinian ambulances from taking sick and injured Palestinians to hospitals."


One of the unfortunate results of the violence during the "al-Aksa intifada" has been the allegations of Israeli abuse against Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances. Various human rights groups, and politicians throughout the Arab world, have accused Israel of gratuitously delaying ambulances attempting to cross from the West Bank into Israel proper, resulting in inconveniences, medical complications, and even death to the sick passengers on board. These accounts tend to portray the delays as wanton acts of cruelty on the part of Israeli soldiers against Palestinians in need of medical attention.

These allegations are correct in one regard: ambulances are indeed stopped and searched at Israeli checkpoints. They fail, however, to put the facts into a broader context. The reason that ambulances have been held and searched at checkpoints is due to the very real threat that they pose to Israel and its citizens. Ambulances have frequently been used as a means to transport terrorist bombs, and many of the militants who have triggered suicide bombings in Israel gained access by driving or riding in Red Crescent ambulances. For example:

On May 17, 2002, an explosive belt was found in a Red Crescent ambulance at a checkpoint near Ramallah. The bomb, the same type generally used in suicide bombings, was hidden under a gurney on which a sick child was lying. The driver, Islam Jibril, was already wanted by the IDF, and admitted that this was not the first time that an ambulance had been used to transport explosives or terrorists. According to Jibril, he was given the bomb by Mahmoud Titi, a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which the U.S. State Department has listed as a terrorist organization, and which is affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

The bomb was removed from the ambulance and detonated in the presence of a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In a statement issued the same day, the ICRC said that it "understands the security concerns of the Israeli authorities, and has always acknowledged their right to check ambulances, provided it does not unduly delay medical evacuations." The sick passengers in the ambulance were escorted by soldiers to a nearby hospital.

In January, 2002, Wafa Idris blew herself up on the crowded Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, becoming one of the first female suicide bombers. She was an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent, as was Mohammed Hababa, the Tanzim operative who sent her on her mission. She left the West Bank by way of an ambulance.

In October, 2001, Nidal Nazal, a Hamas operative in Kalkilya, was arrested by the IDF. He was an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent, and information indicates that he exploited the unrestricted travel to serve as a messenger between the Hamas headquarters in several West Bank towns.

The accusations leveled against Israel by its critics have frequently been based on statements of international law, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is true that the Geneva Convention does place particular emphasis on the immunity and neutrality of ambulances and emergency medical personnel. But the conclusion that Israel must ignore a clear and present danger to its citizens, or else violate international law, is a distortion. It is in fact the Palestinian terrorists, who are using ambulances to smuggle explosives into Israel, that are compromising the Red Crescent's immunity and neutrality.