Medical crews assaulted, care for wounded man disrupted, and patients terrorized during police raid of al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem

Published: 
13 Aug 2017

On the afternoon of Friday, 21 July 2017, at around 3:40 P.M., scores of Israeli police officers raided al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem seeking to apprehend a critically wounded Palestinian, Muhammad Abu Ghanam. Clashes ensued when the police reached the hospital driveway, as Palestinian young men and hospital guards tried to keep the officers from going inside. The officers responded with stun grenades and sponge bullets. About half the officers went into the hospital itself, splitting up among the different wards and searching for the wounded Palestinian, who succumbed to his wounds while the raid was underway. Below are the results of B’Tselem’s inquiries, bringing eyewitness accounts from staff members in various departments in the hospital who described the events of the next forty minutes in the ER, an operating room, the blood bank and various wards. This is followed by a description of how the young Palestinian man was wounded and taken to hospital. All of the testimonies were collected by B’Tselem field researcher ‘Amer ‘Aruri.

Reception and ER area:

A large force of Israel Police and Border Police entered the ground-floor lobby, by the entrance, an area shared by admissions and the ER. Doctors, medical crew members and other people who were there were trying to get the wounded man, Muhammad Abu Ghanam – who was lying on a bed hooked up to oxygen and a blood transfusion – into the elevator in order to take him to the operating room on the second floor. The officers forcibly tried to seize the bed, assaulting members of the medical crew, including two male nurses, a volunteer female nurse and a doctor, and others as well. As this was taking place, doctors observed Abu Ghanam ’s condition was growing worse, and they took him into the x-ray room, located near the elevator, where they tried to resuscitate him. The attempt failed, and he was pronounced dead. At that point, the crowd took his body, removed it through the hospital fence and took it for burial to keep the officers from taking it.

In a testimony given to B’Tselem on 24 July 2017, Hospital Director Rafiq al-Husseini said:

On 21 July 2017, at around 3:40 P.M., I was sitting in my office when I got a phone call from security informing that the police had entered the surgical ward. I went up there and saw three Border Police officers walking in the ward corridors and checking the operating rooms. I went up to them and said in English: “You can’t be here. This is a sterile ward.” One of them told me: “There’s a wounded man here we want to see.” I said: “There are no wounded here, only patients.” The officer said to me: “We want to see the morgue.” I agreed and took them there.

To get to the morgue, we had to go through the lobby, near admissions, the ER and the blood bank. When we got there, I saw about fifty officers. They were wearing olive uniforms and armed to the teeth. They ordered the administrative staff of the blood bank staff to get out, and closed the door. They also ordered the administrative staff of admissions to get out. ward. While this was going on, several medical personnel came out of the ER pushing a hospital bed. There was a man with a chest wound lying in the bed. A crowd of people escorted them. The officers tried to get to the bed to take the wounded man and the crowd blocked their path. Some pushing and shoving started between the police and the crowd and medical crew, and the officers started beating people.

At that point, some police officers in blue uniforms showed up. They spoke to me and said that when a wounded person is brought into the hospital I must call the police right away. I said to them: “There’s no need whatsoever for so many officers to be inside the hospital.” At the end of the conversation, the police and Border Police started leaving the admissions hall and the blood bank, going out to the hospital driveway. 

In a testimony given to B’Tselem on 23 July 2017, a volunteer ER nurse related the following account:

I’m a volunteer nurse at the hospital and an ambulance driver. At about 2:30 P.M. on the afternoon of 21 July 2017, after Friday prayers, I was at the ER together with the paramedics, expecting we’d be receiving people hurt in the riots.

At around 3:30 P.M., a critically wounded man was brought into the ER. It looked like he’d been hit by bullets in the carotid artery and in the heart. He was bleeding heavily, and the doctors began treating him. A few minutes later, police forces raided the hospital. Some were wearing olive green uniforms, and others were in blue uniforms. They closed the blood bank and the admissions area. We had gotten the wounded man one unit of blood from the blood bank, but he needed more units of blood, and the police prevented us from getting them.

The doctors decided to take the man to the operating room on the second floor. A lot of young men gathered around the bed to escort him and prevent the forces from taking him. There was some mutual pushing and shoving between the young men and the officers, who were assaulting people in the trauma and admissions hall. The wounded man’s transfusion bag fell on the floor during the altercation.

The medical crew took the wounded man into the x-ray room, and I went back to the ER and cleaned up the blood together with some other people. Ten minutes later, I heard shots (sponge rounds) and stun grenades near the hospital. I found out that the young men had smuggled out the body of the young man who had died of his wounds, through the hospital fence. At that point, scores of people who had suffered mild injuries from sponge rounds and stun grenades started flooding the ER, and we treated them. Outside, there were clashes with the police, which had sealed all the entrances to the hospital. 

In a testimony given to B’Tselem on 6 August 2017, an admissions clerk recalled:

The police raid on the hospital on Friday, 21 July 2017 caused a lot of confusion and panic among admissions’ employees, who aren’t used to dealing with these things.

On that day, the ER received a man who had been seriously wounded. I saw the guy – blood was coming out of his mouth and nose and he had a chest injury. Right after he was brought in, I heard people yelling: “Army!” I went out of the lobby of admissions and the blood bank and stood at the lobby entrance, inside the building.

Hospital guards were standing across from the entrance to the admissions lobby to keep the police from going through. There were scores of officers wearing olive green uniforms who spread out in the driveway in front of the entrance to the ER, admissions ward and the blood bank. They started throwing stun grenades and firing sponge rounds in the driveway across from the ER. That’s how they managed to get through the guards and into the lobby of the ER, admissions and blood bank.

I went into the admissions’ office and started filming through its window. The police didn’t like that, and one officer started banging and kicking the electric office door, which was shut. One of my colleagues opened the door for them, apparently out of fear. A few officers, three or five, came inside and one of them told us: “Get out of here.” He and the others shoved me and my colleagues out to the driveway in front of the ER.

The blood bank:

The blood bank is located on the ground floor, near the ER, and has two rooms. At that time, there were about fifty people in the blood bank, including staff members, volunteers and blood donors, who had responded to the appeal by hospital which was facing a shortage in blood. When the staff heard police were inside the hospital, they closed the door to the blood bank to keep the officers from entering.

About eight officers forced the door open and kicked out all people present, except three who were then donating blood and three staff members. The officers closed the door from the inside and prevented entry. They remained in the blood bank for some ten minutes without saying anything to the people there, then opened the door and left.

In a testimony given to B’Tselem on 1 August 2017, a secretary at the blood bank worker said:

I’ve been working at the blood bank at al-Makassed Hospital for a year and a half. On Friday, 21 July 2017, I was at the blood bank at 2:30 P.M., when lots of donors started coming in following the clashes after Friday prayers. A lot of wounded people came in.

At around 3:40 P.M., a doctor from the ER came and asked for a blood unit to be prepared quickly for one of the men injured in the clashes. He got the it, and as he went out, I heard the sounds of stun grenades going off outside the building.

Two colleagues and I closed the blood bank door, fearing the police would barge in. There were about fifty people inside the blood bank, some volunteers and some donors. I kept working at the entrance to the blood bank. My colleagues were in the inner rooms. I saw, through the window, the occupation forces banging hard on the closed door of the blood bank. One of the volunteers opened the door.

About eight officers started kicking out everyone who was inside, volunteers and donors. I stayed there with two more office workers and three donors, who were lying on beds.

When the officers were in the room, I was very afraid, because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I heard more shots (sponge rounds) and stun grenades outside. I was scared I’d get hurt. I didn’t know what to do. My hands went numb. The police left after about ten minutes. I breathed a sigh of relief, drank some water, and went back to work. About twenty minutes after the police left the building, people started coming back to the blood bank.

Surgical ward and operating room:

The operating room is located on the hospital’s second floor, across from the surgical ward. Five officers went there to look for Abu Ghanam. They came across a nurse who was on break and shoved him out of their way when he could not tell them where the man they were seeking was. They went through the emergency door and proceeded into the operating room across the way. After they went in, three more officers tried to get into the operating room through the electrically operated front door. As they were trying to force the door open, a nurse who was inside opened the door, fearing they would break it. No surgery was underway in the room at the time.

In a testimony given on 26 July 2017, a surgical ward nurse said:

I’ve been a nurse on the surgical ward here for the past ten years. On Friday, 21 July 2017, at around 3:40 P.M., I was standing by the emergency door at the ward, after a surgery, getting some fresh air. Suddenly, five Border Police officers in green or olive-green uniforms barged into the ward through the emergency door. One of them asked me in Arabic: “Where’s the wounded man?” I said there was no wounded man there. The officer pushed me backwards and I almost fell. They were armed and proceeded toward the operating room. I followed them, and shortly after they went in, I heard banging on the operating room door and cries: “Open up! Police!”

One of my colleagues opened the operating room door. He said he had done it because he was afraid they would break down the door. It’s an electric door that seals hermetically. As this was happening, one of the officers asked why I was following them, and I said I worked there and they weren’t allowed to be there.

The officer said to me in Hebrew: “Let’s go – to the station,” and grabbed me by the shirt, but not violently. I was careful not to say anything because I could see in their eyes they were ready to attack and humiliate anyone. At that point, the hospital director, Dr. Rafiq al-Husseini arrived, and I told him they were going to arrest me. He said to them in English: “I’m the hospital director. If you want to arrest anyone, arrest me.”

The maternity ward:

The ward is located on the first floor. It has thirteen rooms and a nursery. When the nurses found out the police was in the hospital, they gathered all the mothers in the visitors’ room and took the babies into the nursery, to keep them out of harm’s way. Six officers entered the ward and were there for about fifteen minutes, going from room to room in search of the wounded man. They sprayed pepper spray in one of the rooms, which was empty.

In a testimony given on 26 July 2017, a maternity ward nurse said:

I’ve been working in the maternity ward for seven years now. The ward is located above the ER and admissions, and you can see the ER and admissions driveway from the nurses’ room window.

On Friday, 21 July 2017, at around 3:40 P.M., I heard noise under the nurses’ room window. I looked out the window and saw a crowd of young men in the ER driveway. Then officers charged into the hospital. I informed the head of the ward, and she asked the nurses to make sure the mothers and babies were safe, and bring the mothers into the visitors’ room, which has large windows, and the babies into the nursery, which can be locked and has security measures to keep the babies safe. There were eight babies there.

Our job was to protect them in case something happened in the hospital. Also, it’s easier to watch over everyone when they’re gathered in one place. One of the mothers, in room 101, refused to leave the room.

At around 4:00 P.M., five male officers and a female officer, wearing olive green uniforms, barged into the maternity ward. They went into room 101, which is the room with the mother who had refused to vacate, and drew open the curtains around the beds. Then they left the room and went to other rooms. I followed them. When they came out of room 105, which was empty, they sprayed pepper spray in there. I don’t know why they did that.

I tried to tell them in English that what they were doing was illegal. One of them said they were looking for a wounded man. They stayed for fifteen minutes and then left the ward.

The events described here took place on Friday, 21 July 2017. On that day, the Muslim Friday prayers was held outside the al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount [al-Haram a-Sharif], after the Israel Police installed metal detectors at the entrance to the site, following the killing of three Israeli police officers by Palestinian citizens of Israel. The new security measures disrupted the status quo at the site. After prayers, clashes erupted in East Jerusalem between young Palestinians and Israeli police. The Red Crescent reported it had taken some forty injured people to hospitals in East Jerusalem on that day. Many were taken to al-Makassed Hospital in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of a-Tur.

The wounded Palestinian man the police were went searching for at the hospital with such brutality was 20-year-old Muhammad Abu Ghanam, from a-Tur. A little earlier in the day, Abu Ghanam and his friends went to the intersection between the neighborhoods of a-Tur and a-Sawaneh. Four or five Border Police officers were standing in a lot near the intersection. Shortly before 3:40 P.M., clashes broke out between the officers, who used tear gas, and some youths who threw rocks and firecrackers at them. Abu Ghanam and two of his friends fled towards a-Sheikh ‘Anbar Street in the neighborhood. While his friends kept running, Abu Ghanam stopped and tried to light a firecracker to throw at the four Border Police officers who were a few meters away from him. Some of the officers shot Abu Ghanam, and after he was wounded and fell to the ground, they stood around him for five to ten minutes without offering any medical assistance. At that point, a Red Crescent ambulance with three crew members arrived. A Border Police car, which was in the middle of the intersection, blocked its way. The Border Police officers threw a stun grenade at the ambulance. It missed. The personnel got out of the ambulance to treat Abu Ghanam.

In a testimony given on 1 August 2017, the ambulance driver said:

I got out of the ambulance with my colleagues. I saw the young man. He was injured in the chest, and four Border Police officers were near him. I checked his pulse, but he had none. We picked him up and got him into the ambulance. Two Border Police officers followed us and one of them tried to get in. He told me he wanted information about the guy

My colleagues and I wouldn’t let him in through the back door. There was some mutual shoving between one of my colleagues and the two officers for about a minute, and then we got into the ambulance. I locked the ambulance with the central locking system. I started driving, and five Border Police officers stood, trying to block our way. I swerved and managed to get around them. I was driving slowly because there were a lot of youths and security forces on the way. At that point, the officers started pursuing another young man and left the ambulance alone. During the ride, I heard a shot and something hit the ambulance from the back. I think it was a sponge round.

Abu Ghanam arrived at al-Makassed Hospital at around 3:40 P.M. and the events described above at the hospital took place immediately thereafter. He had been hit in the chest by a live bullet that penetrated his spine. He died of his wounds 15 to 20 minutes after arriving at the hospital.

In addition to the account given above, B’Tselem’s research shows that when the police left the hospital, they used violence against people who had gathered outside it, and fired stun grenades and sponge rounds at them. Some people there sustained mild injuries and received immediate attention in the hospital ER.

This is not the first time that the police has raided al-Makassed Hospital to arrest wounded individuals, and such incidents have been previously reported. Also earlier, on 17 July 2017, during clashes in Jerusalem’s Old City, officers reportedly went into the hospital to arrest a man who had been seriously injured. That day, once the police realized how serious the man’s condition was – he was in intensive care – they left the hospital.

Words fail to convey the gravity of the police’s conduct inside the hospital. The fright engendered by scores of armed police raiding a hospital cannot be downplayed. When these feelings of terror are accompanied by an assault on medical staff and interference with medical care, the situation escalates to one of a real risk to the lives of the many patients in the hospital. This unreasonable, violent and life-threatening conduct on the part of the security forces is indefensible, particularly considering they clearly could have chosen any number of other avenues of action that would not have entailed such harm to medical staff, hospital patients and the basic human norm that medical personnel and facilities where people receive medical attention are protected places. The blatant breach of this norm by police forces inside al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem is part of a much larger picture, one in which Israeli authorities repeatedly show the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem just how unwanted they are in their own city and how cheap their lives are.