Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Erez crossing attack illustrates Hamas' attitude to its own civilians

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The Erez Crossing at the northern point of the Gaza Strip is the only crossing through which people can cross from the Strip to Israel and vice versa. It is perhaps the most important lifeline for the provision of medical aid to Palestinians in Gaza. The health and even survival of many sick and injured Gazans depends on medical treatment in Israel and overseas, and for them smooth and uninterrupted operation of the Erez Crossing is crucial. Tragically, Hamas repeatedly launched mortars and rockets at the crossing during the recent Gaza conflict. By doing so, Hamas yet again showed blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of Gazans, even those who are the most vulnerable- the sick or injured.

Despite the frequent shelling toward the crossing during Operation Protective Edge, it remained open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to allow Palestinians with permits and their escorts to enter Israel for humanitarian reasons, usually medical treatment. Foreign journalists, UN aid workers and volunteer doctors also pass through the crossing regularly. In addition, the crossing is also used for the delivery of products, donations and medical equipment provided by aid organisations from around the world and Israeli-based charities.

Three Israeli-Arab taxi drivers aged 27, 56 and 42-years-old, were injured earlier this week on August 24, just two days before the latest ceasefire went into effect, by mortar explosions near the Erez Crossing. Two of them were seriously injured, and one moderately, by shrapnel. They were treated and evacuated to safety by IDF soldiers under mortar fire. Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, took responsibility for the shelling, and admitted firing 13 mortars at the Erez area. Later, the launcher that was used for the shelling was identified, targeted and destroyed by the Israeli Air Force.

Taxi drivers and relatives of Gazan Palestinians often wait outside the crossing for the patients, and drive them and their companions from the Gaza Strip to hospitals in Israel for medical treatment.

Hussein Abu- Einam, a Bedouin taxi driver from Rahat, was present during the shelling. He recalls the event:

"...All of a sudden the siren went off, we did not have time to find shelter, it was very quick. Six to seven mortars fell one after the other. One of them hit right where we were sitting. Three of the friends were injured; there was a lot of blood. I immediately started treating one of the injured and then came security personnel from the crossing; one of them was a paramedic. They called ambulances which came very quickly. Fortunately, as the condition of one of the injured was especially severe, and they treated him."

Another eyewitness, Khaled Abu Rumiellah commented:

"while the soldiers treated the Palestinians, more mortars fell. The missiles don't differentiate between Jews and Arabs, and in a situation like that you don't think about politics."

One of the Palestinian women on the scene expressed hope for an end to the conflict, and said:

"war has brought us to where we are. There is fear in Gaza, and there is fear in Israel. We just wanted to receive medical treatment."

Following the incident, the crossing was closed by the Israeli Ministry of Defence due to the risk presented by the ongoing shelling. Nonetheless, special life-saving humanitarian cases are still allowed through the crossing. Israeli sources from the Ministry of Defence stressed that hundreds of civilians, injured and sick, passed through the crossing during Operation Protective Edge to hospitals and medical facilities as part of the humanitarian efforts. "Hamas is harming the transfer of Palestinians from the Strip and the provision of medical aid," the sources added.

An Israeli-Arab Erez Crossing official explained the danger Hamas is putting Palestinians under to Israeli Army radio:

"This is an organisation that cares about the [Palestinian] people? They're shooting at the Palestinian terminal."

Meanwhile, Israeli staff members at the crossing risked their lives every day as they worked under rocket fire while they helped provide humanitarian solutions for Gazan residents, including those who are undergoing dialysis and cancer treatments. Among the patients are children. The frequent colour red sirens, indicating a rocket launch from Gaza at the area, and the explosions that followed, interrupted the work at the crossing, as medical teams and ambulance paramedics are forced to stop medical examinations and treatment of the Gazan patients on their way to hospital, and all have to run for cover.

Shlomo Tzaban, the Director of the Erez Crossing at the Crossings Point Authority, explained the absurd reality:

"Sick and injured Palestinians, including children, are trying to get across to Israel for medical treatment, and Hamas is shelling them".

The IDF also built a field hospital in the crossing compound, which is described as a modern and air-conditioned high quality facility. Yet Hamas, reportedly, did not allow injured Gazan residents to reach the Erez Crossing and receive medical treatment from the IDF there.

There is no doubt that targeting the humanitarian crossing is not in the interests of the Palestinian people in Gaza. It risks the lives of those patients who cross through it for crucial and often urgent medical procedures. It interrupts the flow of medical and aid personnel into Gaza and the transfer of medical supplies. And it is Hamas' own doing.

Hamas' habit of putting its own people at risk while ignoring humanitarian concerns was also evident last week, when four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed by shrapnel in Kibbutz Nahal Oz when a mortar exploded just outside his home. The IDF identified the location of the launch - near the Jafar Ali Taleb School in Zeitoun neighbourhood, Gaza city. The school now serves as a shelter for Gazans and is run by Hamas. By using its own shelter as a launch pad for rockets and mortars, Hamas is risking not only the lives of Israeli children playing in their homes, but also the very people it claims to protect.

This is in line with Hamas' use of civilian facilities and infrastructure for rocket storage and launching, which includes not only residential buildings, but also hospitals, medical centres and schools. According to Israeli analysis, more than 260 rockets were launched from schools and more than 50 from medical facilities during Operation Protective Edge. For example, over 36 rockets were fired towards Israel from school compounds in the neighbourhood of Shuja'iyya during August alone.


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