Physicians for Human Rights, et. al v. Commander of IDF Forces in the West Bank

HCJ 2936/02; HCJ 2941/02
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These petitions were filed during Israel Defense Force (“IDF”) combat activities (called “Operation Defensive Wall”) in the areas of the Palestinian Authority. IDF forces allegedly shot at the Red Cross and its medical teams who were working out of ambulances and in the hospitals. This prevented workers from taking the sick and wounded to hospitals to receive medical care, from removing bodies to receive a proper burial, and from getting the necessary medical supplies into the hospitals. Petitioners alleged that this was a violation of international law and sought an explanation of the actions of the State.

According to the State, the IDF soldiers fired on the ambulances and hospitals because there were incidents in which Palestinian fighters used the ambulances to transport explosives, and used the hospitals to house wanted terrorists. The State also confirmed that it had instructed its combat forces to act in accordance with the rules of international humanitarian law.

The Supreme Court could not and did not comment on the specific events mentioned in the petition but held that combat forces must fulfill the rules of humanitarian law pertaining to the care of the sick and wounded, as well as to the removal and burial of bodies. Although medical personnel abused their position in hospitals and in ambulances, making it necessary for the IDF to act the way it did in this circumstance, this does not justify sweeping breaches of humanitarian laws. Thus, the Court mandates that the IDF shall continue to instruct the combat forces of the need to adhere to these humanitarian laws as well as those of morality. Because these petitions requested an order requiring explanations from the State, and because those explanations were given (wherein it was clarified that IDF soldiers must act according to humanitarian law), the petition is rejected.

“The fact that medical personnel have abused their position in hospitals and in ambulances has made it necessary for the IDF to act in order to prevent such activities but does not, in and of itself, justify sweeping breaches of humanitarian rules. Indeed, this is also the position of the State. This stance is required, not only under the rules of international law on which the petitioners have based their arguments here, but also in light of the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

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