During the al-Aqsa intifada, many human rights groups and politicians leveled allegations against Israel concerning abuse by IDF soldiers against Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances. These allegations typically said that soldiers gratuitously delayed ambulances attempting to cross from the West Bank into Israel proper, resulting in inconveniences, medical complications and even death for the sick passengers on-board. These accounts portrayed the delays as wanton acts of cruelty on the part of Israeli soldiers against Palestinians in need of medical attention.
The accusations were based on fact: ambulances were indeed routinely stopped and searched at Israeli border checkpoints. What the allegations failed to do, however, was put this fact into a broader context and mis-explained the reason for the stoppages.
The reason that ambulances were held and searched at checkpoints was due to the perifidous actions of Palestinian terrorists in their unending missions to harm Israeli citizens. These terrorists frequently used ambulances as a means to transport bombs, guns and other weapons. Many of the terrorists who triggered suicide bombings in Israel gained access to the country by driving or riding in Red Crescent ambulances.
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.1
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.2
In October, 2001, Nidal Nazal, a Hamas operative in Kalkilya, was arrested by the IDF. He was an ambulance driver for the Palestinia 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.3
The accusations leveled against Israel by its critics based their condemnations for stopping ambulances on statements of international law, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention. While the Geneva Convention does place particular emphasis on the immunity and neutrality of ambulances and emergency medical personnel in war zones, the belief that Israel should ignore a clear and present danger to its citizens, or else violate international law, is a distortion.
It is in fact the Palestinian terrorists - the ones who are using ambulances to smuggle explosives into Israel - that are compromising the Red Crescent’s immunity and neutrality.
1“Bomb found in Red Crescent Ambulance,” Ha’aretz, 6/12/02.
2Israeli Foreign Ministry