Gazan paramedic recounts horrors faced during Israeli detention

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His right leg heavily bandaged because of a gunshot wound, Palestinian Tamer Ossama Salem al-Hafy lies in an Egyptian hospital recalling his ordeal in Gaza, where Israel falsely accused him of being a terrorist.

A paramedic at the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza, 40-year-old al-Hafy said he was shot below the knee by Israeli forces as he helped the injured onto stretchers after an Israeli airstrike last November.

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He briefly became a patient at the same hospital before fleeing on Nov. 20 when it came under attack. His father, Ossama, had to carry him over his back as they headed for another medical center in southern Gaza.

At an Israeli military checkpoint, al-Hafy said, soldiers accused him of being a “terrorist” and took him to a detention facility where he was blindfolded.

He said he was held for 35 days and released without charge. While in detention, he was cuffed by his arms and legs to a bed inside a tent, he added.

Israeli authorities did not respond to a request for comment on his account.

Al-Hafy said he was blindfolded except during interrogations and received only “liquid vitamins” through a straw every three or four days as nourishment.

“I was in a prison. I had no idea where it was located,” he told Reuters at a makeshift hospital aboard a cargo ship docked in al-Arish, an Egyptian city in the Sinai Peninsula near Gaza.

“They would uncover my eyes and put it (the blindfold) back after. I didn’t see the sun until I was released,” he said.

Al-Hafy said he was beaten and humiliated and did not receive medical care while in detention, and believes his job as a paramedic made him a target.

“The words ‘medical personnel’ and working at a hospital, that was enough for them to treat you as a suspect,” he said.

Medical groups, including the World Health Organization, have called for a halt to attacks on Gaza healthcare workers during Israel’s war on the territory.

Rights groups concerned

Al-Hafy’s account of being blindfolded, restrained and beaten is consistent with comments by other Palestinians who have been detained by Israel, and with statements by human rights groups on alleged abuse and mistreatment.

The UN rapporteur on torture voiced concern in May, saying she was concerned about emerging patterns of violations against Palestinian detainees and an absence of accountability.

Israel’s military has claimed detainees are treated in accordance with international law and that allegations of abuse against Palestinian detainees were being investigated.

The military advocate-general said in May that allegations were treated seriously and that military police investigations had been opened where there was suspicion of criminal offences.

Israel has killed more than 38,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities, and has destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure including thousands of homes.

Al-Hafy said he was “dumped” in southern Gaza after being released from detention and, still unable to walk, had to crawl for 3.5 km (2.2 miles). Over the next few months, he was treated in four different hospitals in Gaza, suffered from a blood clot in his lung and fell into a coma, he said.

When he awoke some 25 days later, he had lost his sight in his right eye, he said. He was eventually medically evacuated to receive care in Egypt.

He is now being treated in an Emirati-funded and operated makeshift hospital aboard a cargo ship in Egypt near Gaza. Many of the patients at the “floating hospital” are children from Gaza, some with amputated limbs.

“They (medical staff), may God bless them, have tried everything with me but God hasn’t permitted my healing yet,” al-Hafy said.

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