A Senior Gazan Doctor Died During Israeli Detention. Officials Refuse to Explain How

Dr. Adnan Al-Bursh was arrested at a hospital in the Gaza Strip last December, with his death at an Israeli prison quietly announced four months later. Palestinian detainees who saw him say it was clear he had gone through hell, but the Israeli army and prison service have declined to disclose any details

Among the incidents in which Palestinians were arrested in Gaza, taken to a detention facility and died in Israeli custody during the war, the case of Dr. Adnan Al-Bursh raises many questions.

Earlier this month, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society announced that Al-Bursh, the head of orthopedics at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, died at Ofer Prison in the West Bank on April 19. The circumstances of his death are unknown and the Israeli authorities have not informed his family about them. The Israel Defense Forces and Israel Prison Service refused to disclose any details of his case to Haaratz.

Palestinians who met Al-Bursh in prison said he was in a very poor medical condition, and his family is convinced he died as a result of torture. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Service said Israel has yet to release his body.

Al-Bursh, 50, was working at Al-Shifa Hospital when the war commenced last October. When Israeli forces reached it, targeting it as an alleged Hamas command center, he went north to the Indonesian Hospital in Beit Lahia. When that too became a battlefield, he went to the Al-Awda Hospital in the Jabalya refugee camp north of Gaza City.

Al-Bursh’s wife, Yasmin, told Palestinian journalists that her husband only returned from the Jabalya hospital during the weeklong cease-fire at the end of November, after which he went back to work. “He spoke with me by phone when possible and asked about our six children,” she recounted. “I asked him to come home, but he insisted on staying with the patients.”

In circumstances that remain unclear, Al-Bursh was detained by the IDF last December. According to witnesses who spoke with his family, when the Israeli forces reached Al-Awda Hospital, he was ordered to go down to the hospital courtyard, after which he was not seen again in Gaza. The IDF told Haaretz he was detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorism.

According to the IDF spokesperson’s unit, Al-Bursh was documented at an IDF detention facility on December 19, before being transferred the next day to the Kishon detention facility for security prisoners, near Haifa. “He has not been the IDF’s responsibility since then,” the spokesperson said.

According to security sources who spoke with Haaretz, after being questioned by the Shin Bet security service at the facility, Al-Bursh was transferred to Ofer Prison, which is run by the Israel Prison Service. One source added that Al-Bursh did not die during questioning.

The prison service refused to confirm or deny any details about the orthopedic surgeon, saying merely that it did not comment on the circumstances of the death of detainees or security prisoners who are not Israeli citizens.

As a result, no answer has been given as to whether an autopsy was performed on Al-Bursh’s body, as is the norm following the death of any prisoner at a prison service facility. The service’s official response was: “Contact the authorized party.”

Testifying about Al-Bursh’s condition, Palestinian detainees who were released back to Gaza after questioning, including several doctors, told his family and Haaretz that they had encountered him at a detention facility near Be’er Sheva, southern Israel.

“I barely recognized him,” one doctor said. “It was clear he had been through hell – torture and humiliations – and sleep deprivation. He was in pain and suffered from a severe lack of food. We tried to talk to him and calm him, but he was in shock and sounded scared and in pain. He was a shadow of the man we knew.”

Before his detention, one doctor added, Al-Bursh had no medical problems and liked to swim and keep fit. The physician said he was convinced Al-Bursh died as a result of the conditions of his detention.

“For us, Dr. Al-Bursh was a symbol, a role model and source of inspiration,” said one colleague. “We suddenly see a broken man who barely speaks or understands what is happening around him. And then we receive a vague announcement that he died in prison.”

Al-Bursh was a relative of Gazan Health Ministry Director General Dr. Munir Al-Bursh, who told a representative of Physicians for Human Rights that he tried to get information about Adnan’s fate after his detention. The only information he received was confirmation of his death from the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society. This in turn was based on information from the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (part of Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), which works with representatives of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.

Nearly 500 deaths

Adnan Al-Bursh was an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in joints and compound factures. His colleagues said that, since the outbreak of the war, he devoted all his time to treating the many wounded from the Israeli bombing, which has brought the health system in Gaza to the brink of collapse. He was lightly wounded in a strike near the Indonesian Hospital and returned to work after being treated.

According to figures released earlier this month by the health ministries in Gaza and Ramallah, 496 doctors and medical/first aid staff have been killed since the outbreak of the war, a further 1,500 wounded and 309 detained by security forces.

Haaretz has previously reported that some 30 Gazans have died in Israeli detention facilities since the start of the war, 27 at military detention facilities such as Sde Teman in southern Israel. Autopsies were performed on at least six of the bodies to verify the cause of death. Two others, including Al-Bursh, died while being held by the Israel Prison Service.

The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society said it has asked the United Nations and Red Cross to immediately intervene against what it called the “criminal conduct” of the Israeli authorities with respect to Palestinian detainees, including medical staff.