Israeli forces raided the Health Organization headquarters in al-Bireh. (Photo: via Amnesty International)
The Israeli authorities’ decision to shut down the Palestinian Health Work Committees (HWC) will have catastrophic consequences for the health needs of Palestinians across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), said Amnesty International today.
In the early hours of 9 June, Israeli army forces raided the HWC headquarters in Ramallah. They broke down the door, confiscated computers and memory drives, and issued a military order forcing the office to close for six months. The organization has come under attack repeatedly, with employees facing harassment and arrest for its alleged affiliation with the Popular Liberation Front for Palestine, a Palestinian political party with an armed wing.
“The Health Work Committees is one of the main providers of health services in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, running hospitals and health clinics providing medical care to marginalized communities. Israel’s shut down of its headquarters will have major consequences for the provision of essential health services to thousands of Palestinians, a program for women’s health that was at the headquarters has now stopped,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“As the occupying power Israel has a clear obligation under international law to protect the rights of all Palestinians - including their right to health. So far they have completely failed to fulfil this responsibility throughout the global pandemic, pursuing a discriminatory Covid-19 vaccination policy. Israeli authorities must immediately rescind the shutdown order and put an end to the harassment of health workers.
“The targeting of HWC is part of a wider attack by Israel against Palestinian civil society organizations. Instead of criminalizing organizations providing vital health services, the Israeli authorities should be ending their institutionalised discrimination and systematic oppression of Palestinians.”
HCW has been at the forefront of the Covid-19 response in the OPT, raising awareness, offering public health guidance, and providing medical care to Covid-19 patients in its health facilities, as well as to hard-to-reach communities through mobile clinics. It also leads local advocacy efforts to improve the Palestinian health system.
This is not the first time that HWC and its staff have been targeted by Israeli forces. Its Jerusalem office was shut down by Israeli authorities in 2015. Its Ramallah office which was shut down today was previously raided in October 2019 – when its finance director was arrested – and in March 2021 when two other members of staff were arrested.