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Physicians for Human Rights Israel's actions & response to Gaza Flotilla incident

A letter from Gila Norich, Director of Development at Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

Waking up to Monday's events was disheartening and shocking, to say the least. Throughout the ordeal, Physicians for Human Rights- Israel has remained in constant contact with senior physicians to try and find out the status of injured and deceased victims evacuated to Israeli medical centers. Despite our efforts to help individuals from all over the world who turned to us to help locate their loved ones, it was extremely difficult on Monday and Tuesday to receive official information from Israeli hospitals. Neither PHR-Israel staff, nor affiliated physicians were allowed into hospitals to gather testimony. 

As a result of the lingering uncertainty, by Monday afternoon we issued an urgent letter to the Director of Medicine of the Israeli Ministry of Health and the Director General of the Foreign Ministry asking them to set up an emergency hotline for the families of the injured and deceased. We also asked authorities to set up an emergency mechanism accessible to all the families of injured persons, especially those from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. In Monday's waning afternoon hours, we submitted together with Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Public Committee against Torture (PCATI) a Habeas Corpus petition to the High Court of Justice, demanding information about the health and whereabouts of hospitalized passengers.

Our petition received considerable local media attention. Articles can be found here: (Hebrew), 7340, L-3897026, 00.html (Hebrew) (Hebrew)

As a result of our petition, a list has been provided to Adalah with the names of hospitalized Flotilla passengers. Even with this list, it's still not possible to identify all of the passengers; authorities provided names in Hebrew and did not include ID numbers or countries of origin. 

Yesterday morning, the Ministry of Health informed us that 54 Flotilla passengers had been admitted to Israeli hospitals Sheba, Hadassah Ein Kerem, Rambam, Beilinson, and Barzilai and that surgeries had been/were being conducted at Sheba and at Rambam Hospitals. Last night, we received word that several patients were transferred from Beilinson Hospital to the medical facilities of the Israeli Prisons Service. In addition, according to information we've received, passengers have been made to sign off on deportation orders written in Hebrew, without understanding what they are being asked to sign.

As things stands today, we have yet to receive word from health officials regarding the establishment of an emergency hotline. We know that at least 31 flotilla passengers are still hospitalized, as well as 3 Israeli soldiers. We know that representatives from certain diplomatic missions visited hospitals both on Monday and Tuesday and that information on foreign nationals from countries without diplomatic ties with Israel is being coordinated by the ICRC. Since several individuals have undergone intensive care procedures, we feel it is crucial that families be able to reach their loved ones. For this reason, we've sent another urgent request to government officials demanding that families be notified of the medical status of their loved ones. In addition, yesterday we coordinated visits between lawyers and hospitalized Flotilla passengers at the Orthopedics Unit at Beilinson Hospital.

We believe that the violence and its tragic consequences necessitate an independent, international investigation. The Israeli government should publicize all documentation of the events, including materials that have been seized from passengers. Furthermore, as Israeli citizens, we call for the establishment of a National Commission of Inquiry to look into the decisions leading up to the events and for State actors take responsibility for their decisions.

Israel's decision to stop the Free Gaza Flotilla is further evidence of its ongoing control over the Gaza Strip. For the past three years, Israel has imposed a harsh and illegal blockade against the civilian population in Gaza amounting to collective punishment for political gain. This blockade includes limitations on the right to health, education, human and economic development, as well as a chronic dependence on foreign aid. These combined factors force the Gaza population to live their lives on the brink of perpetual humanitarian crisis. Through these actions, Israel violates the right of Palestinians to live in dignity, security, and freedom, and steers us further away from the possibility of a just and peaceful solution.

We look forward to providing additional updates in the coming days and appreciate your support.