UK must stop arming Israel or be complicit in War Crimes

“UK must stop arming Israel or be complicit in war crimes” says Sharyn Lock, a midwife who carries Israeli bullet in abdomen.

I am a midwife, but before that I was a human rights volunteer in Palestine. As such, I know what it is like to be targeted by an Israeli bullet. I am raising my voice not only for the 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza, the 180 babies born every day “into hell” as UNICEF puts it, but also for my beleaguered healthcare colleagues in Gaza. In late 2023 I held a 5 day fasting vigil outside Scottish Parliament to join all those calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and specifically for the protection of healthcare workers, healthcare resources, and all those who rely on them. 

The Israeli Army has made more than 370 attacks specifically on healthcare in Gaza in the last months, resulting in 645 people dying and another 818 being injured as a result. These attacks have affected at least 98 healthcare facilities, including 27 hospitals and over 90 ambulances. 

Over the last few days the Red Crescent has reported constant attacks on Al Amal hospital, which has been under siege for over a month. Its water de-salinisation facilities have been bombed, so after today there will be no drinkable water. Twelve of its staff have been arrested, including doctors, nurses, and the anaesthetist needed for caesarean sections. Al Shifa hospital is trying to function with a small number of exhausted staff, and no fuel. The World Health Organisation say they fear for the 130 patients and 15 staff left at the raided and damaged Nasser Hospital, occupied by the Israeli army and without electricity or running water. 

In a briefing for the United Nations Security Council today, Chris Lockyear, director of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) said that Israel had again targeted their clearly marked staff accommodation, killing two and injuring six. He reported, “There is no health system to speak of left in Gaza. Israel’s military has dismantled hospital after hospital….this situation is the culmination of a war Israel is waging on the entire population of the Gaza Strip — a war of collective punishment.”

Physicians for Human Rights Israel: Attacks on Gaza healthcare may constitute war crime

This week, Physicians for Human Rights Israel called for an investigation into Israel’s actions as a violation of international humanitarian law, constituting a potential war crime, stating: “Israel’s assault on Gaza’s healthcare system has caused unparalleled devastation to medical infrastructure. Countless local hospitals and medical facilities have been left incapacitated due to military forces surrounding hospitals and restricting movement; the severe scarcity of fuel, electricity, water, and medicine due to the complete prevention of humanitarian aid entry in the early stages of the war and subsequent severe limitation; and direct attacks on medical facilities, including instances of military forces storming some of them.”

“In both the hospitals and ambulances I saw only civilians”

In November 2023, the Israeli Army posted and then deleted a statement on X saying “For Hamas, ambulances are used to transport its operatives and weapons to disguise them as civilians, and hospitals are in fact terrorist structures…this turns them into legitimate military targets.”

I travelled as a human rights observer with Palestinian ambulances during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead attacks on Gaza in 2008-9 and was based at Gaza’s Al Quds/Jerusalem hospital. Israel made these same accusations back then. However, in the hospitals and ambulances I saw only civilians. I was in ambulances and in Al Quds hospital round the clock, and I visited a range of other hospitals healthcare facilities. I moved freely wherever I wished, with my camera, and was never obstructed or restricted by anyone. I saw only civilians, and hard working, courageous medics, whom I accompanied day after day as they worked under fire. International medics returning from Gaza this time round say the same. It is horrifying enough that the Israeli army ignores the Geneva Convention’s protection of health workers and resources, but to justify it with false statements is even worse.

The Israeli Army targets the innocent, not by accident, but by design. It is clear that the lives of nearly 30,000 civilians so far did not stand in the way of the Israeli government’s violent agenda of colonisation. Neither, apparently, do the Israeli hostages themselves, even those holding a white flag. 

Birth in Gaza: “Another child delivered into hell”

Oxfam reports that starvation is being used in Gaza as a weapon of war. Hungry mothers cannot breastfeed hungry babies. Without birth care, or even clean water, mothers and babies die. The miscarriage rate is up by 300%. The United Nations Population Fund today reported that incubators at Al-Helal Al-Emirati Hospital hold 4-5 babies each, many with dead or missing parents.

“Mothers face unimaginable challenges in accessing adequate medical care, nutrition and protection before, during and after giving birth,” UNICEF’s Tess Ingram stated in a recent report. “Becoming a mother should be a time for celebration. In Gaza, it’s another child delivered into hell. Humanity cannot allow this warped version of normal to persist any longer. Mothers and newborns need a humanitarian ceasefire.”

The UN special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, has said that Israel appears to be in breach of the orders issued in January by the International Court of Justice, requiring it to take immediate steps to protect Palestinians’ rights and cease all activities that could constitute genocide. The Israeli government was given until February 23rd to report to the ICJ on what it has done to comply. Thousands more Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed and injured since the ICJ ruling. 

Shot while walking backwards with my hands in the air

And yet none of this is new. I was shot on my first trip to Palestine, in 2002. At the time I was walking slowly backwards, with my hands in the air, along with a group of human rights volunteers from all over the world, including Jewish folks. The Israeli soldier who shot us was sitting in an armoured personnel carrier. Ten of us were wounded.  The Israeli army said later we were ‘caught in crossfire’, but there was no crossfire, it was just a quiet street. We were carrying food, first aid supplies, and peace banners, and someone was playing the clarinet. The shooting was not a mistake, but an experiment – and a message.

The footage of the attack appeared in director Leila Sansour’s film ‘Jeremy Hardy vs the Israeli Army,’ and although it was believed to be the first time the Israeli Army had used live ammunition on international workers, it was not the last. Over the next 12 months, the Israeli army shot Irish volunteer Caoimhe Butterly in the leg, shot American volunteer Brian Avery in the face, killed UN worker Iain Hook and British film-maker James Miller, shot British volunteer Tom Hurndall, who spent a year in a coma before dying, and killed American volunteer Rachel Corrie with a bulldozer.

They used a fragmentation bullet on me, specially designed to break up on impact to cause more internal damage than a traditional bullet, and the 8 pieces remain lodged in my abdomen. I didn’t talk much about it at the time. I didn’t think I should be the story; I felt the story was Palestinian civilians who lived under attacks like this every day, and the Israeli peace activists who were also often wounded while trying to protect them. As for me, I could head home to safety as soon as I liked.

The night after I was shot, there was a major Israeli army incursion into the West Bank, as illegal collective punishment of the whole area after a Palestinian suicide bombing in Israel. So there were wounded civilians in Palestinian refugee camps needing urgent rescue. However, I was in an almost empty intensive care unit, because the Palestinian ambulances were fired upon by the Israeli Army when they tried to access the injured. 

The Geneva convention states that all parties to a conflict must protect the injured and those caring for them, but it has long been the Israeli Army’s policy to ignore this. What we are seeing now in Gaza is a huge increase in the violence against rescuers, healthcare workers and civilians, because the international community has let Israel act in this way with impunity on a smaller scale, for decades. Many countries, including the UK, in fact profit from this by selling Israel weapons. 

“History will hold us to account”

Last week, a Netherlands court blocked its government from making arms sales to Israel, stating “It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law.” Spain and Belgium have also suspended weapons sales to Israel.

Yet the UK government not only continues to allow similar weapons sales, but quibbles over calling for the ceasefire that all the humanitarian organisations on the ground are desperate for. 22 civil and human rights organisations in Israel have issued a joint statement calling for both an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages, saying 

“We call on the international community to uphold its legal obligation to restore respect for international humanitarian law and protect civilians. The international community must ensure that all those responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law be held accountable. These steps are vital for ensuring human rights and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

History will hold us to account if we let genocide happen on our watch. The ICJ has already made it clear that we may be doing just that. Today, a diverse panel of UN experts in Geneva put it simply: “Any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately.” Otherwise, we’re not only letting genocide happen – we’re joining in.

Further info:

Sharyn Lock began regularly volunteering in Palestine in 2002, after a Jewish friend introduced her to the International Solidarity Movement, founded by Israelis and Palestinians working together, to support everyday Palestinian civil life and non-violent resistance to the occupation of Palestine. 

In Gaza during 2008-2009, Sharyn accompanied fishermen and farmers who regularly come under live fire from the Israeli army as part of everyday life under occupation. During the 22 days of Israel’s Cast Lead attacks, she volunteered as an observer and first aider with the Red Crescent, accompanying paramedics and volunteer rescuers who were targeted by Israeli fire; 16 were killed and many more injured. She was in Al Quds Red Crescent hospital when it was attacked with Israeli tank shells and white phosphorous on January 15, 2009, and helped carry civilians, including children, who were targeted by Israeli sniper fire as they were running to the hospital for shelter. She was supported during her work by Palestinian, Israeli, and international colleagues.

Late in 2023, Sharyn held a 5 day fasting vigil outside Scottish Parliament, calling for an immediate ceasefire and stating: “I am wearing a Palestine Red Crescent vest to represent all emergency workers and health professionals. With UNWRA, Israeli Physicians for Human Rights, and the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, I call on all parties to protect civilians, medical personnel, and health facilities and those sheltering in them.”

Sharyn spoke about her 2010 book “Gaza:Beneath the Bombs (Pluto Press)” at the Edinburgh Book Festival. She is also a contributing author to “Here We Stand: Women Changing the World (Honno Press).” She qualified as a midwife in 2013, and, with others, is currently fundraising at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/MidwiferyBasics to support Gaza birthing families.  

References:

Gaza: UN health agency warns over continuing attacks on healthcare

https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/02/1146387

Statement by Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC): Civilians in Gaza in extreme peril while the world watches on

https://www.who.int/news/item/21-02-2024-statement-by-principals-of-the-inter-agency-standing-committee-(iasc)-on-gaza

WHO fears for remaining patients at Gaza’s Nasser Hospital

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-68348021

MSF strongly condemns Israeli attack on MSF shelter in Al-Mawasi which kills two and injures six

https://www.msf.org/msf-strongly-condemns-deadly-israeli-attack-msf-shelter-gaza

MSF briefing on Gaza to UN Security Council

https://www.msf.org/msf-briefing-gaza-un-security-council

Physicians for Human Rights Israel: Investigate Israel’s assault on Gaza for war crimes

https://www.phr.org.il/en/investigate-israels-assault-eng/

Newborns struggle to survive at maternity hospital in Rafah (Gaza)

https://www.facebook.com/UNFPA/videos/1083393222710185

Gaza crisis: Babies being born “into hell” amid desperate aid shortages

https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/01/1145677

Oxfam: Starvation as weapon of war being used against civilians

https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/starvation-weapon-war-being-used-against-gaza-civilians-oxfam

Guardian investigation 2009 – Under attack: how medics died trying to help Gaza’s casualties

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/mar/23/gaza-war-crimes-medics

Joint statement from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent

https://www.icrc.org/en/document/joint-statement-jagan-chapagain-secretary-general-ifrc-and-robert-mardini-director-general

Gaza: UN experts decry bombing of hospitals and schools as crimes against humanity, call for prevention of Genocide

https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2023/10/gaza-un-experts-decry-bombing-hospitals-and-schools-crimes-against-humanity

Physicians for Human Rights Israeli: Urgent Appeal for Israel to halt the atttacks on Gaza

https://www.phr.org.il/en/gua/?pr=6065

UN orders Israel to ensure acts of genocide are not committed in Gaza

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/26/un-court-orders-israel-to-ensure-acts-of-genocide-are-not-committed-in-gaza

Israel appears to be in breach of ICJ orders on Gaza, senior official says

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/feb/10/israel-appears-to-be-in-breach-of-icj-orders-on-gaza-senior-un-official-says

Which countries have stopped supplying arms to Israel?

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/15/which-countries-have-stopped-supplying-arms-to-israel

Human Rights and Civil Society Organisations in Israel demand: Ceasefire Now

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=818165237019846&set=a.651533560349682

More killing won’t bring back lost lives: Tal Mitnik, 18, on going to prison instead of joining the IDF

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/23/israel-man-jailed-refuse-serve-idf-military-tal-mitnick-interview

 

Comments (6)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    Well done Sharyn and thanks for sharing your first hand knowledge.

  2. Jean Bareham says:

    Thank you Sharyn for sharing your experiences. I haven’t been able to find the Just Giving page for midwifery basics in Gaza. Is it possible to share the link here? All the best.

    1. Sharyn says:

      Thank you Tom and Jean 🙂 This is the JG link: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/MidwiferyBasics

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Yes, it is deeply perverse for organisations like NATO to undermine international definitions of terrorism which include the kind of state terrorism which Israel inflicts on Palestinians. When of course NATO is an organisation built to maximise the effect of terrorism by a bloc of states, and “vital partners like Israel”.
    https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_222256.htm?selectedLocale=en

  4. Sharyn says:

    Have just spotted this fundraiser for a Scottish Palestine Film Festival 🙂

    “Welcome to Falastin Film Festival (FFF)!
    https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-us-finance-scotlands-palestinian-film-fest

    We’re a volunteer-run, not-for-profit collective of Palestinians and allies bringing a Palestinian film festival to Scotland in May 2024. Our festival will take place between in Oban on May 8th, on the Isle of Mull May 9-12th and in Edinburgh May 24-26th. The purpose of our festival is to raise awareness about Palestine through art for Edinburgh and Highland audiences and the funds raised from this crowdfunding will directly help us to put on our events.

    Palestinians are too often summed up as an ‘occupied people’ as though they have no other stories to tell. Using cinema as an instrument of resistance, we strive to decolonize the narrative. We want to build community while celebrating Palestinian art and culture through cinema, music, cuisine, and other storytelling mediums….”

  5. Tracy Patrick says:

    I want to know what it would take for young Israelis to refuse to buy into the occupation, to refuse to believe the narratives they are currently being fed. Most sane people witnessing these events see the folly of this violence and see through the lies. If the majority of Israelis start to feel the same way and refuse to support the oppression of Palestinians, surely the occupation will have to end. Whether it’s a joint state or a two state solution, let there be an end to checkpoints and walls, let the young people and future generations of these regions travel freely, study and work from city to city, and enjoy their beautiful and historic environments living in peace.

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