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2023 is the deadliest year on record for Palestinians in the West Bank

Miles away from Gaza, Palestinians in the West Bank face record-breaking death tolls amid Israeli military attacks and obstruction of health care.

MSF staff walk through an alleyway in Jenin refugee camp, West Bank, Palestine.

Palestine 2023 © Tetiana Gaviuk/MSF

In a hospital room at a facility that Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) supports in Palestine, 17-year-old Amin lies on a bed with a gunshot wound. He was shot in both legs by Israeli forces on November 19, during a ground and air assault on Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

But Amin is one of the lucky ones. Even before Hamas’ attack on October 7, Israeli forces had already killed 205 Palestinians in the West Bank this year, while settlers were responsible for nine more killings. Of these deaths, 52 occurred in Jenin alone, including in its refugee camp, where Palestinians who’ve searched for safety amid conflict and violence over the years live.

On June 19, Israeli forces began conducting air strikes in the West Bank—something that had not occurred since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. Far from being an isolated event, these attacks have become more frequent. In July, Israeli fighter jets dropped bombs and drone strikes on the densely populated Jenin refugee camp during a 48-hour military operation. The violence has only escalated since.

At Khalil Suleiman Hospital, where Amin is receiving medical care, Israeli forces launched a tear gas grenade inside the emergency room, compounding the already critical influx of patients. Throughout the military incursion, MSF staff witnessed the obstruction of ambulances and the targeting of health care facilities—actions that have become commonplace in the months since. Hospitals are supposed to be safe spaces and must be respected.

Two Palestinian women walk through an alleyway strewn with rubble in Jenin refugee camp, West Bank, after an Israeli attack.
Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Palestine 2023 © Tetiana Gaviuk/MSF

Two hours waiting for an ambulance

Amin was walking home when an Israeli soldier shot him in both legs as the November 19 raid began. Although there was a hospital next to the camp, the ambulance could not reach Amin for over two hours because Israeli forces had surrounded the hospital and cut off access to the facility by blocking the main road with armored vehicles, restricting the movement of ambulances. 

Bleeding profusely, he was picked up from the street by a medical volunteer and taken to one of the few trauma stabilization points in the camp—a simple room with little more than a bed frame and a few medical supplies. The goal was simply to stop the bleeding.

These trauma stabilization points inside the camp, which were established and are run by self-organized local medical volunteers, are the only places where camp residents can receive lifesaving medical help. Yet these points have been repeatedly targeted by drone strikes or destroyed and vandalized by ground troops. Israeli forces are now preventing volunteers from rebuilding these trauma points or establishing new ones, according to the camp volunteers.  

Bullet hole in glass window inside Jenin refugee camp after an Israeli military raid in the West Bank, Palestine.
Christos Christou meets with MSF teams in Jenin, West Bank.

MSF International President Dr. Christos Christou visited Jenin refugee camp and Khalil Suleiman Hospital in November. Palestine 2023© Tetiana Gaviuk/MSF

Obstructing access to critical care

“The situation today in the West Bank and particularly in Jenin is extreme,” said Luz Saavedra, MSF coordinator in Jenin. “We see a significant uptick in violence against civilians, and it has been increasing rapidly since October 7. Attacks on health care have increased dramatically and become systematic. The destruction of roads and infrastructure, such as water pipes and sewage systems, have also been alarming.”

In the last few weeks, Israeli forces have besieged multiple hospitals in Jenin, creating a direct impediment to health care. They even shot and killed a teenage boy in the Khalil Suleiman Hospital compound. The obstruction of health care has unfortunately become common practice. During each incursion, Israeli forces surrounded various hospitals, including the public hospital.

“The lack of respect for hospitals is staggering," said Saavedra. “Since October, we have witnessed the shooting and killing of a 16-year-old boy in the hospital compound, soldiers firing live rounds and tear gas at the hospital several times, paramedics forced to strip and kneel in the street."

MSF International President Christos Christou visits Khalil Suleiman Hospital in Jenin, West Bank
Dr. Christos Christou at Khalil Suleiman Hospital in November. Palestine 2023 © Tetiana Gaviuk/MSF

A deadly year for Palestinians

More than 450 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank this year, including at least 106 children, according to OCHA. This makes 2023 the deadliest year in the West Bank since OCHA started recording casualties in 2005. Palestinians in Gaza have also faced record-breaking death tolls, with more than 18,000 people killed during the current war with Israel. 

“We used to have a football team in the camp. From 20 players on the team, only seven are still alive. Many of them have been killed since July. They were young, between 17 and 22 years old."

Nurse at Khalil Suleiman Hospital

"Aside from the direct violence, the consistent blocking of access to health care is also putting the lives of camp residents at risk. It appears to have become a standard operating procedure for military forces during and following the raids in Jenin. As obvious as it may sound, we cannot provide treatment for patients if they can’t make it to the hospital. People in need must be able to safely access medical services and health facilities need to be protected.”

Amir survived this time, but his future is uncertain. “Anyone can be targeted at any time here. We never know who will be next,” he said as he was discharged from the hospital to return to his home in the camp, now probably in a destroyed street. 

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