Open letter : Healthcare staff must never be a target


This open letter was published in MO* on 29 February 2024

#FreeAhmedMuhanna ! Belgian NGOs call for the immediate release of Al Awda hospital director Ahmed Muhanna and 7 other hostages from the Al Awda hospital in Gaza in an open letter. Muhanna is an internationally recognised voice denouncing Israeli attacks on the health system in Gaza.

On Sunday December 17th, after 13 days of siege, the Israeli army invaded the Al Awda hospital in Jabalia, in the north of Gaza. At the time, the hospital was one of the last functioning hospitals in northern Gaza. Following the interrogation of all those present, the director of the hospital, Dr Ahmed Muhanna, was arrested and taken by the Israeli army to an unknown location.

The following day, five other members of staff, a patient and a visitor were also arrested. To date, the Israeli authorities have not communicated any charges or indictments justifying the arrest. This allows us to speak of the kidnapping and hostage-taking of Dr Muhanna and the other detainees. Meanwhile, sources indicate that they are being held in Naqab prison, in the middle of the Palestinian desert.

The Al Awda hospital in Jabalia is part of the Palestinian health organisation AWDA, an important health institution in the Gaza Strip, and a loyal partner of the Belgian NGO Viva Salud and Belgian development cooperation. Doctors without Borders has also worked with the hospital for many years and has expressed its concern at the attacks on it on several occasions. AWDA runs two hospitals and six medical centres throughout the Gaza Strip. Since 7 October, AWDA staff have continued to work tirelessly.

The staff ignored orders from the Israeli army to leave the hospital and evacuate to the south, as they did not want to abandon patients who could not be transported. For some weeks now, Al Awda hospital has also been the only remaining hospital in the north of Gaza City where women can give birth. The hospital had already fallen victim to Israeli bombardments, resulting in the deaths of three doctors.

Imprisoned because they did not want to abandon their patients

Dr Ahmed Muhanna is an internationally recognised voice denouncing the Israeli attacks on the health system in Gaza. In the weeks leading up to his abduction, he repeatedly described in detail the horrific situation at the hospital. In his last audio message, a day before he was taken away by Israeli soldiers, he said: “No one can move around the hospital because of the [Israeli] snipers. The situation in the hospital is terrible. We have 38 patients, some of whom can’t get medicine. We have no oxygen and very little fuel for a small generator. We have barely enough food for 2 or 3 days. The situation is critical.”

Attacking medical personnel and medical infrastructure is a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law.

Attacking medical staff and medical facilities is a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. Furthermore, the siege of the Al Awda hospital and the abduction of medical staff, patients and their families are totally unfounded and morally reprehensible.

Schending van het internationaal humanitair recht

Palestinian hospitals, health centres, health workers and patients are not collateral damage as the Israeli occupying forces try to portray them. The determination to destroy them is part of the strategy to erase all traces of a social security network for Palestinians, making it impossible for them to return home.

The WHO recently warned that the combination of famine and disease will cause more casualties than Israeli bombs. At that point, a functioning health system will be crucial.

Viva Salud demands the immediate release of Dr Ahmed Muhanna and the seven other hostages from the Al Awda hospital. We call on the Belgian government to take concrete steps to immediately release all those held captive, particularly the carers, who should never be targeted.

We also call on the Belgian government to take effective sanctions against Israel, to put in place concrete measures to actively support the ICJ investigation, to ensure that the Court’s decisions are implemented, and to do everything possible to achieve an immediate and permanent ceasefire.


11.11.11, ABP, Belgian Academics and Artist for Palestine (BA4P), Broederlijk Delen, CNCD, De-Colonizer, Entraide & Fraternité, FOS, Intal Globalize Solidarity, Médecine pour le peuple, Memisa, Palestina Solidariteit, Pax Christi Vlaanderen, SB OverSeas, Solidagro, Solsoc, Viva Salud, Vrede vzw, WSM

Sign the petition !

  • Put pressure on the Belgian government to demand the immediate release of Gaza health workers, who should never be targeted.
  • Put an end to Israel’s intolerable impunity, which is completely destroying the Palestinian healthcare system.
  • Demand that the EU take effective sanctions against Israel for the genocide it is committing in Palestine.