Border Police at checkpoint refuse entry of crically ill patient to East Jerusalem for treatment, July 2007

'Abd al-Halim al-'Awiwi, ambulance driver

'Abd al-Halim al-'Awiwi

I live in Hebron and since 1984 have been working as an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Yesterday [Monday, 2 July], at 2:15 P.M., I arrived with the paramedic Taher Tahboub, 35, in the ambulance with license plate 62308-91, at the tunnels checkpoint in Bethlehem . We were transporting Yousef Harbi 'Abd al-Qader 'Ashur, 20, who was suffering from an accumulation of fluids in his lungs and was in critical condition. Yusef's father was with him in the ambulance and we were on our way from al-Ahli Hospital , in Hebron , to al-Makassed Hospital , in East Jerusalem .

We arrived at the checkpoint after coordination between the Red Crescent and the Red Cross. The Red Cross was supposed to arrange the crossing of the ambulance to the Israeli side. When we arrived at the tunnels checkpoint, a border policeman with dark skin stopped us. He yelled at me in Hebrew to go back to where I came from. I told him in Hebrew that I was driving a patient in critical condition and that in a humanitarian condition such as this he had to let me pass. The policeman told me that I was not allowed to go through the checkpoint to Jerusalem . I told him that only a few days earlier, after coordination with the Red Cross, I had passed through this checkpoint to Jerusalem . The policeman wasn't convinced and insisted that I leave the place.

I didn't leave. I parked the ambulance on the right side of the road, about seventy meters from the checkpoint. Taher and I called the Red Crescent in Hebron and Bethlehem and asked them to coordinate between the Red Cross and the Israeli side so we could pass. The Red Crescent official in Bethlehem promised to take care of it and told us to wait next to the checkpoint.

About three quarters of an hour later, around 3:00 P.M., a border policeman, who appeared to be Druze, approached us and asked about the patient's condition. He opened the ambulance door and looked at the patient lying inside with a tube for draining fluids attached to his chest. It was obvious from the appearance of the patient that he was in a very critical condition. The policeman was not convinced and said that a Palestinian ambulance was allowed to cross an Israeli checkpoint only if the patient was in a life-threatening condition. I emphasized to him that the patient was in a life-threatening condition, but he said "No, he can wait." I asked him if he was a doctor. He didn't reply and went back to the checkpoint.

Around 3:45 P.M., while we were waiting for an answer from the Red Crescent in Bethlehem, a third policeman came and asked us to move away from the checkpoint. The policeman was nervous. We moved back about 200 meters and stopped next to the entrance of the road that led to Beit Jala. We continued to wait for the Red Crescent's reply. Around 4:00 P.M., the Red Crescent notified us that there was no point in continuing to wait, and that we should return the patient to al-Ahli hospital in Hebron . They promised they would continue to try to coordinate the transport of the patient for tomorrow. We returned the patient to al-Ahli hospital. He was exhausted from the long wait at the checkpoint.

The next morning, a Red Crescent ambulance took the patient to the tunnels checkpoint where a Jerusalem Red Crescent ambulance was waiting and took the patient to al-Makassed Hospital .

'Abd-al-Halim Muhammad Azmi 'Abd al-Halim al-'Awiwi, 60, married and father of 14, is an ambulance driver and a resident of Hebron. His testimony was given to Musa Abu Hashhash, at the Red Crescent in Hebron, on ,3 July 2007.