Family of senior Gaza doctor seek Hague investigation into his prison death

Adnan Al Bursh had been in Israeli custody for more than four months when he died

Dr Adnan Al Bursh, 50, was the head of orthopaedics at Gaza's largest hospital, Al Shifa. Photo: @QudsNen / X
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The family of a prominent Palestinian doctor who died in an Israeli prison after more than four months of detention has instructed a lawyer in The Hague to investigate his death and retrieve his body, they told The National.

Dr Adnan Al Bursh, 50, was the head of orthopaedics at Gaza's largest hospital, Al Shifa. The hospital was raided several times by Israeli armed forces. He died in the Israeli-run Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank last month though the news only emerged on May 2.

Abdallah Al Bursh, Dr Adnan's nephew, said the family has hired a lawyer associated with the International Criminal Court to investigate his death and requested the retrieval of his body which is still in Israeli custody, so they can bury him in Gaza.

Dr Al Bursh was arrested by Israeli forces with other doctors last December at Al Awda Hospital, where he was working temporarily, near the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza.

“Dr Adnan wanted to offer whatever help he could to the patients, but he was forced to leave them after the Israeli army invaded Al Awda Hospital and instructed him to surrender,” his nephew said.

Abdallah Al Bursh, 20, had been stranded in Al Shifa Hospital in November for 10 days with this uncle.

“After the Israeli forces sieged us at Al Shifa Hospital for 10 days and asked us to move to the south [of the Gaza Strip], they refused to allow food and drink to enter the hospital,” said Mr Al Bursh.

“They forced us to relocate to the south, but Dr Adnan refused to comply and decided to take the risk by moving to the north to continue serving people at the Indonesian Hospital.”

Repeated Israeli military operations have reduced Al Shifa hospital to an “empty shell”, the World Health Organisation said last month.

“Dr Al Bursh was one of the people who encouraged others to stay in the north and not leave their homes,” Mr Al Bursh added.

“His wife and six children didn't leave either, and they are currently taking shelter in one of the UNRWA schools in the north of the Gaza Strip.”

The Prisoners Affairs Authority and the Palestinian Prisoners Club accused Israel of carrying out the deliberate assassination of the surgeon.

The Ministry of Health condemned Dr Al Bursh's death and called for an immediate investigation.

The number of doctors killed by Israeli forces has increased to 492 since October 7, according to the health ministry.

“My uncle was injured while we were at the Indonesian Hospital as Israeli forces surrounded us for four days, while he was in the operating room,” Mr Al Bursh said.

“On the fourth day, Israeli forces entered the hospital and inquired about my uncle, Dr Mirwan Al Barsh, my father, and other doctors. Fortunately, the next day there was a truce, so they were not taken away.”

After the truce, Dr Al Bursh went to Al Awda Hospital to continue his work there. Israeli soldiers surrounded the hospital and demanded he surrender or they would destroy it. He was arrested.

“We tried to get any news about my uncle from inside the Israeli prison,” Mr Al Bursh said. “The prisoners who were released told us that the doctor [was] facing a difficult situation and he was subjected to torture.”

Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza, said she was “extremely alarmed” by the news of Dr Al Bursh's death and called for the protection of Palestinians.

Updated: May 04, 2024, 4:11 PM