Ambulance driver Rami 'Ali recounts attacks that killed paramedic 'Aaed al-Bura'i and injured team sent to rescue him, both despite coordination with Red Crescent

Beit Hanoun resident leave town during brief humanitarian ceasefire. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 26 July 2014
Beit Hanoun resident leave town during brief humanitarian ceasefire. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 26 July 2014

On Friday afternoon, 25 July 2014, I was working at the medical emergency call center in Beit Hanoun. At around 4:30 P.M., we received a call reporting injured people in al-Masriyin Street in Beit Hanoun. We asked the International Red Cross to coordinate our going there. About 15 minutes after we received the call, we got authorization and an ambulance headed over there with paramedics 'Aaed al-Bura'i, 25, Hatem Shahin, 38, and driver Jawad Bdeir, 52. The team didn't make it to the wounded people. Soon after they reached the street, they reported back that a tank had fired at them and they were injured. They asked for another team to come and rescue them.

The call center coordinated the arrival of another team with the International Red Cross and got authorization to go rescue the injured team. I drove the second ambulance, and there were two medics with me – Muhammad Harb, 31, and Yusri al-Masri, 54. The street is only about 200-300 meters from the call center, so we were there within minutes. When we reached the entrance to the street, we were surprised to see three tanks and a military bulldozer in the street, about 100 meters away.

Suddenly, with no warning, they opened heavy machine-gun fire at us. The bullets penetrated the ambulance. I tried to turn the ambulance around to get out of there, but the steering wheel must have been hit. Suddenly, I felt sharp pain in my leg and realized I'd been hit by a bullet or shrapnel. Then the windshield shattered. Because I couldn't turn the ambulance around, I decided to try reversing. They kept firing as I backed up, until we got far enough away. When they stopped, I managed to turn us around and head back to the center.

On the way there we met Hatem Shahin, one of the paramedics from the first ambulance. He'd been hit by shrapnel in his shoulder and leg. He told us that a shell fired from a tank had hit the front part of the ambulance. He said he'd managed to get away but the other paramedic, ‘Aaed, had been hit. He told us that after he ran away from there, he saw the tank fire another shell at the ambulance, completely destroying it. He thought ‘Aaed must have been killed, but we didn't know for sure.

The next day, on Saturday, a ceasefire was declared from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. An ambulance team went to the spot and found ‘Aaed’s body in the burnt ambulance. My injury was minor. I was treated at hospital and released the same day. Jawad Bdeir, who drove the first ambulance, was injured in his face and leg. Hatem Shahin, the paramedic, was injured in his shoulder and leg. They were both treated at the hospital in Beit Hanoun. The other two members of the emergency medical team who were with me in the ambulance were not hurt. We found eight bullet entry holes on the ambulance I drove. The windshield was shattered and the radiator was damaged.

Rami 'Abd al-Haj 'Ali, 32, is married and has two children. He works as an ambulance driver for the Red Crescent and lives in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. He gave his account by phone to Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem field researcher in Ramallah, on 27 July 2014.

Concerning testimonies about the "Protective Edge" campaign:

With the current military campaign ongoing, B’Tselem is taking testimony from Gaza residents, mainly by telephone. B’Tselem verifies, to the best of its ability, the reliability and precision of the information reported; nevertheless, in these circumstances, reports may be incomplete or contain errors. Given the urgency of informing the public about events in Gaza, B’Tselem has decided to publish the information now available. When the military campaign ends, B’Tselem will supplement these reports as needed.