Israel Refuses to Take Responsibility for the Rehabilitation of Gaza’s Civilian Amputees

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)

Abdel Naser Zemo with his wife, Suheir, in her room a the al-Shifa hospital
in Gaza City. (Matthew Cassel)

Shortly after the Israeli assault on Gaza ended last January, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-IL) embarked on a campaign to obtain responsibility from the Israeli Ministry of Defense for the treatment of Gaza civilians seriously injured during the assault.

According to estimates provided by health organizations such as the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and the Artificial Limb and Polio Center in Gaza, over 100 civilians lost limbs during or in the aftermath of the 23-day offensive which took place between December 2008 and January 2009. PHR-Israel demanded that Israel cover the costs of rehabilitation and prosthetic limbs for three individuals specifically who had been injured during the offensive. In addition, PHR-IL continued demanding that Israel cover the treatment costs of an amputee from Gaza who had been injured in 2008, months prior to the offensive.

Amputees in Gaza are currently able to take advantage of only limited treatments, most of which are not suited to deal with cases requiring advanced technical expertise or technology. For this reason, and based on our belief that the State of Israel is morally responsible for harm inflicted on innocent civilians in Gaza, PHR-IL corresponded extensively with Israeli Defense officials, demanding they take practical and financial responsibility for medical care and rehabilitation of the four injured individuals mentioned above.

In our note to officials, PHR-Israel also brought examples from 2005 - 2007, in which the defense establishment agreed to shoulder the costs of medical care and rehabilitation for innocent victims of military operations. Local and international media coverage of the issue at the time played a significant role in persuading the Israeli authorities to take the appropriate steps toward accountability.

This time, in the absence of media coverage from a single Israeli source, the Ministry of Defense refused to take any form of responsibility for the four victims' injuries. In its response to PHR-IL on October 12, 2009, the Ministry of Defense wrote that "the fact that the [Ministry's – added by PHR-IL] committee has recognized other cases in the past (even if similar in nature) is irrelevant and cannot bind its judgement and force it to recognize additional cases."

Based on this response and its ongoing contact with the victims, PHR-IL utilized emergency funds to cover the cost of treatment and rehabilitation for two of the four injured individuals featured in our letter.

The first, S. Z., is a 47-year-old woman who lives in the southern Al Ramal region of Gaza City. On January 15, 2009 at 8 a.m. a rocket was fired on to the roof of her apartment while she was upstairs in her children's room. A portion of the ceiling and wall caved in, trapping S.Z. underneath heavy rubble for several minutes until she was found by her husband. S.Z.'s leg was amputated on the spot, while her left leg remained seriously injured. S.Z. was transferred to Shifa' hospital, were she stayed for about a month, during which time her left leg was also amputated. S.Z. requires complex rehabilitation for both legs, including fittings for prosthetic limbs. Ms. S.Z visited the Reut Hospital for rehabilitation on September 6, 2009 where she underwent tests and was deemed a good candidate for prosthetic limbs.

The second injured individual, G.A.E, a young man of 17, is a resident of the A- tufah neighborhood in Shujaiah in the eastern Gaza Strip. Close to 3 p.m. on March 1, 2008, G.A.E's house was hit by mortar fire from a nearby Israeli brigade stationed close to his home. He was critically wounded and lost a large amount of blood. Immediately following the incident, G.A.E was rushed to Shifa' Hospital where his two legs were amputated, both above the knee. G.A.E was transferred for care in Egypt and then to Turkey, where he later learned he would require extensive rehabilitation. PHR-IL assisted in obtaining an exit permit from Gaza for the patient and on November 3, 2009, G.A.E's visited the Reut Hospital for Rehabilitation in Israel where he underwent extensive examination and was found fit to undergo continued rehabilitation at the hospital, including fittings for prosthetic limbs.

Both patients are currently at Reut Hospital in Israel after arriving there on December 6, 2009. S.Z. is scheduled to be released and go back to Gaza on Thursday, December 31, 2009, while G.A.E. will be released next Monday, January 4, 2010.

Despite negative responses from Israeli officials, we intend to continue pursuing our campaign demanding moral and financial liability from the Ministry of Defense. Your engagement matters too.

To express your support, please write to the Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak at the mailing address Hakyria, Tel Aviv 64743, fax at 972-3-6976711, call at 972-3-6975540/5423, or email at

For additional information from PHR-IL on this matter, please contact Mr. Amiram Gill at +972-546-995-199 or / Ms. Reut Katz at +972-547-320-029 or




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