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From the field

Testimony: Soldier delayed patient’s evacuation from Old City of Hebron, 8 May 2012

Yusri Abu Turki, ambulance driver

Yusri Abu Turki, ambulance driver

I have worked as an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent since 2007. Since the beginning of 2012, I have been stationed at the new Red Crescent trauma center in the Old City of Hebron, in Area H2.

Generally we enter and leave the H2 area in the ambulance without advance coordination, according to an agreement with the Israelis. Since I’ve been stationed there, I have occasionally been delayed a little, but I’d never had a serious problem evacuating patients from the Old City.

On 9 May 2012, at 11:45 PM, we were contacted by the trauma center which told us to come urgently to Tel Rumeida and evacuate the patient Manal Abu Haza’a, who was having trouble breathing and had lost consciousness.

Yusri Abu Turki next to the ambulance. Photo: Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 18 June 2012.
Yusri Abu Turki next to the ambulance. Photo: Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 18 June 2012.

Within three minutes, at 11:48 PM, we were already at the patient’s house, which is near the entrance to the Beit Yishai settlement. When we went into the house I saw the patient lying on the floor semi-conscious. The paramedic, Ali Hasasna, and I tried to revive the woman using cotton dipped in alcohol as smelling salts. After she came to, I understood from her that she was suffering chest pains and having difficulty breathing. We were concerned that she was having a heart attack, mainly because her blood pressure was high, so we decided to quickly evacuate her to the hospital.

I went back to the ambulance to bring oxygen. I was surprised to see a soldier standing next to the ambulance. The soldier spoke on his radio and told me to remain by the ambulance. I took the oxygen container and returned quickly to the patient’s house. I gave the paramedic the container and told him that I would wait by the ambulance. I was worried because of the soldier.

Two minutes later, five soldiers arrived and they looked quite annoyed. One of them asked me in Hebrew what I was doing. I pointed to the house and told him that there was a sick woman there. The soldier told me to leave. I replied that I couldn’t leave because I had to evacuate the patient and the paramedic was with her. The soldier shouted at me and told me again to leave immediately. I answered as I had before. This displeased him and he angrily ordered me to give him my identity card. I gave it to him.

Usually when I go somewhere to evacuate a patient, I leave the engine of the ambulance running. The soldier told me to turn off the engine and give him the keys, so I did. He told me to get out of the ambulance and I did so. Then he told me to leave. I told him that I could not do that when a patient was in need of evacuation and that the paramedic was still with her. The soldier pushed me into the ambulance, through the open door. He told me to start the engine and I did. Then he threw my I.D. card at me and it hit me in the eye. He told me to leave with the ambulance. I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. Because I was embarrassed, it didn’t occur to me to call 101 and report the incident to the Red Crescent emergency line.

The soldier shouted at me and told me again to drive the ambulance away. I drove about 30 meters away. The soldier told me to turn off the engine. Then the same soldier that had been there alone earlier took my I.D. card and told me again leave. I apologized and said that I could not leave the ambulance, the paramedic, and the patient. I got out of the ambulance and the soldier rudely ordered me to sit on the road.

I was encouraged when I saw people passing by. I asked one of them, an elderly woman who is a neighbor of the patient, to call the Red Crescent at 101 and notify them that I was detained. I asked them also to tell the paramedic Ali Hasasna to leave the house and come over to me. Ali arrived and was surprised by what was happening. He tried to explain to the soldiers that we had a patient suffering from chest pain who had to be evacuated to the hospital, but the same soldier did not agree and said that the liaison would have to come and get her from there. The soldiers told Ali to sit next to me and he did so. Ali asked permission to get the gurney and bring the patient outside, but the soldier refused. Ali then called the Red Cross and the Red Crescent and they said they were already handling it.

We asked the elderly neighbor and the patient’s son to phone the Red Crescent and urge them to intervene quickly because of the patient’s condition. The neighbor began shouting to get the soldiers to understand the danger. About 45 minutes later, the patient’s husband came home from work and began begging the soldiers to let his wife be evacuated.

After an argument lasting more than ten minutes, the soldiers apparently realized that the situation was serious and that they had a responsibility. Then, the same soldier told us to bring the patient our quickly, in two minutes. We quickly went back into the patient’s house and evacuated her to the hospital in the ambulance. It was 12:50. That was the end of our mission.

The soldiers interfered with our work and put the patient at risk for over an hour. If I had not behaved with patience and followed the soldiers’ instructions, the outcome of this incident could have been much worse.

I felt humiliated. The work of medical personnel is protected by law and we work on the assumption that the soldiers understand the nature of our job.

Yusri Abu Turki, 29, is an ambulance driver with the Palestinian Red Crescent and a resident of Khirbat Kalkas in the Hebron district. His testimony was taken by Musa Abu Hashhash, on 11 May 2012, at the Red Crescent emergency center in Hebron.