Renowned Gaza doctor Adnan Al-Bursh tortured and killed in Israeli detention

Renowned Gaza doctor Adnan Al-Bursh tortured and killed in Israeli detention
Adnan Al-Bursh, a prominent Gaza surgeon, was killed while in Israeli detention, leaving many to mourn and pay tribute to him.
5 min read
03 May, 2024
At least 496 medical workers in Gaza have been killed by Israeli forces since 7 October, including doctor Adnan Al-Bursh [Anadolu Agency/Getty]

Adnan Al-Bursh, a renowned Gaza surgeon, was tortured to death in Israeli detention, a Palestinian prisoner association announced on Thursday. 

Al-Bursh, head of orthopaedic medicine at Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital was held in Israeli detention since December, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society reported. 

His killing has been called a "deliberate assassination" after it was revealed he died on 19 April in Israel's Ofer detention centre in the occupied West Bank. His body remains withheld by Israel.

The Palestinian ministry of health condemned his killing, urging the international community to hold Israeli forces accountable for his killing.

"We call on the international community, health and rights organisations to intervene and visit the prisoners, to protect them from torture," a statement from the ministry read.

The ministry also reported that since the outbreak of Israel's war on Gaza on 7 October, 496 medical workers have been killed, with at least 1,500 others wounded and 309 detained.

Al-Bursh, who studied in the UK, was taken away by Israeli forces at Al-Amal Hospital in Gaza in December, while providing medical treatment to Palestinians injured in Israel’s indiscriminate assault on the besieged enclave.

Prior to his detention, Al-Bursh was renowned for traveling to various hospitals in Gaza to treat patients, even amidst heavy Israeli bombing.

Muhammad Shehada, the chief of communications for the Geneva-based Euro Med Human Rights Monitor told The New Arab that Israel carried out a "criminal kidnapping, unlawful and indefinite detention and ceaseless torture" of Al-Bursh.

He also added that his killing was part of a systematic and deliberate campaign to collapse Gaza’s health sector.

"We documented dozens of Gazan detainees, including medical workers, who have been subjected to retaliatory torture and we collected testimonies about the killing of other medical personnel in detention whose fate has not been formally disclosed by Israel," he explained.

"The crimes committed by Israel…would hinder the development of Palestinian society in the Gaza Strip in general, undermine its health system and deprive its vital sectors of specialised and distinguished cadres that will be difficult to replace in the near term," he added.

According to Shehada, through their targeting of health workers, Israel has created a situation of panic and coercion amongst medical staff who may as a result feel compelled to leave just to survive.

Demands for Israel to be held accountable

Aseel Baidoun, the advocacy and communications manager for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) in the occupied West Bank told The New Arab the killing of Al-Bursh was devastating.

"His death must be urgently investigated, amid reports of torture, ill-treatment and medical neglect. The killing of every health worker in Gaza must also be investigated, as we approach the grim milestone of 500 Palestinian healthcare workers killed since October," she said.

Baidon said Al-Bursh worked in the limb reconstruction unit in Al-Shifa hospital, which MAP helped found after the 2014 Israeli military attacks on Gaza.

She emphasised that "Israel will continue to enjoy impunity" and attacks on medics will persist unless Israeli forces are quickly and thoroughly investigated, with perpetrators held to account. 

British-Palestinian doctor Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a highly respected medical professional who spent 44 days in Gaza during Israel's assault, condemned the killing of his friend and medical colleague Al-Bursh.

"The murder of doctor Adan Al-Bursh in Israeli prisons was a red-line in the same way the Al-Ahli Hospital massacre was. Once safely crossed the whole project can be rolled out. The lives of over 100 health workers in prisons are in danger," he wrote on X.

Others hailed and commended Al-Bursh as a "martyr, hero, physician to your beloved people" in social media posts.

Al-Bursh was also remembered for his efforts during the Great March of Return in 2018-19, when he performed over 28 surgeries in one day on Palestinians injured by Israeli fire.

An image of him, exhausted in the hospital with his bloodied uniform, became a defining photo of the Great Return March protests.

On Thursday, Francesca Albanese, the United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories, said she was "extremely alarmed" by the death in detention of Al-Bursh.

"I urge the diplomatic community to intervene with concrete measures to protect Palestinians. No Palestinian is safe under Israel's occupation today," she wrote in a statement on X. 

In a 2016 interview with MAP, Al-Bursh said he grew up during the First Intifada with his family suffering hugely from Israeli aggression.

Despite wanting to be a lawyer, his family convinced him to study in the UK, where he pursued his medical education.

"Children always affect me the most. When I treat them, I feel like they could be my own children. When I see a child crying, it feels like it’s my own child that cries. Our children don’t have a normal childhood as I saw abroad, outside of Gaza," he said.

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed over 34,500 Palestinians in Gaza alone and wounded at least 77,000 in the same time frame.

Israel’s bombing of the besieged enclave has levelled entire neighbourhoods and collapsed the healthcare system.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated Adnan Al-Bursh studied at King’s College London. The university confirmed to The New Arab that there is no record of him on their databases to show he studied there.