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Amnesty warns of ‘catastrophic consequences’ of Israel’s shutdown of Palestinian health body

Amnesty International has raised the alarm at the “catastrophic consequences” of Israel’s closure of the Palestinian Health Work Committees (HWC)’s headquarters, urging the regime to immediately reverse the decision.

The Israeli authorities’ decision to shut down the prominent NGO’s office would have catastrophic consequences for the health needs of Palestinians across the occupied territories, said Amnesty International on Wednesday.

The warning came after the Israeli army raided and broke down the door of the HWC headquarters in the city of Ramallah in the early hours of Wednesday and confiscated computers and memory drives.

It issued a military order forcing the office to close for six months.

The organization has come under repeated attacks, with employees facing harassment and arrest for its alleged affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International Saleh Higazi stressed the important role of the HWC as “one of the main providers of health services” in the occupied Palestinian territories, saying it runs 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,” Higazi added.

Under international law, he said, the occupying entity has a clear obligation to protect the rights of all Palestinians, including their right to health.

“So far they have completely failed to fulfill 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 Amnesty official emphasized.

Higazi warned that the HWC’s shutdown was 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 institutionalized discrimination and systematic oppression of Palestinians,” he pointed out.

The HCW has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 response in Palestine, raising awareness, offering public health guidance, and providing medical care to patients in its health facilities and to hard-to-reach communities via mobile clinics. It also leads local advocacy efforts to improve the Palestinian health system.

This is not the first time that Israeli forces targeted the health body and its staff. The HCW office in East Jerusalem al-Quds was shut down in 2015, while its Ramallah office was previously raided in October 2019 — when its finance director was arrested — and in March 2021 when two other staff members were arrested.

Heavily armed Israeli troops on April 13, 2021 detained Juana Ruiz Sánchez, a Spanish humanitarian aid worker who has been working for the HWC in the West Bank.

Sanchez, who has been living in Palestine for 35 years, was charged with involvement in “terrorist activity” and “funding terrorism” for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Late last month, Spanish rights organizations and activists signed a manifesto calling for Sánchez’s release.

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