[News] Delays at Israeli checkpoints of women in labour, result in forced roadside births, and even death

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 31 11:58:52 EDT 2006

Pregnant women must get urgent access to health care in Occupied 
Palestinian Territory
Press Release, UNFPA, 30 August 2006


Conflict has put undue pressure on Palestinian women and impacted 
their right to health care and other rights: Palestinian refugees 
from Al-Shoka village living at a temporary refugee camp in a United 
Nations school near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, 10 July 2006. 
Villagers of Al-Shoka fled their houses after the Israeli army began 
their incursion to the Gaza Strip nearly one week ago. 
(<http://www.maannews.net/en/>MaanImages/Hatem Omar)

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, expresses its deep concern 
about recent reports of delays at Israeli checkpoints of women in 
labour, which have resulted in forced roadside births, and even death 
of some women and infants. It urges that civilians with urgent needs 
should have access to health facilities and that humanitarian 
organizations be allowed to work freely to alleviate the suffering of 
the people, especially women and children.

More than 68 pregnant Palestinian women had to give birth at Israeli 
checkpoints during the last six years, leading to 34 miscarriages and 
the death of four women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

A recent report by the Ministry shows that since the beginning of the 
Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, pregnant Palestinian women in 
labour are often prevented by Israeli forces from reaching hospitals 
to receive appropriate medical attention. As a result, 10 per cent of 
women who wished to give birth at medical centres have had to spend 
two to four hours on the road before reaching a hospital, while 6 per 
cent spent more than four hours. The normal time, before the 
Intifada, was 15-30 minutes.

"These figures underline the need to put an end, once and for all, to 
the agony of pregnant Palestinian women held at Israeli checkpoints." 
said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA. "It is urgent 
to facilitate access by pregnant women to life-saving services, as 
stipulated by international humanitarian law."

According to the Ministry's report, there are currently 117,600 
pregnant women in the Palestinian territory, including 17,640 who 
suffer from difficult pregnancies due to the lack of prenatal and 
postnatal care. Inadequate medical care during pregnancy, says the 
report, is the third leading cause of death among Palestinian women 
of childbearing age.

UNFPA has been helping pregnant women avoid suffering at the 
checkpoints by training health personnel and equipping them with 
delivery kits to provide services within their communities. It has 
also formed local community support teams to assist health providers 
and raise awareness of the availability of delivery services.

The latest Israeli military incursions into the Gaza Strip, which 
started on 28 June, have compounded the suffering of the Palestinian 
population in general, and women and young people in particular. 
Damage to the Gaza infrastructure, including health, communication 
and transport facilities, and power sources, has been extensive. 
Facilities and services, including those of health, have not been 
able to function properly, and the Strip's 1.4 million inhabitants 
have been left without electricity.

UNFPA continues to work with its partners on providing the Gaza 
population with essential emergency services and supplies. That 
includes restoring health facilities, purchasing reproductive health 
supplies and other essential drugs to support the Ministry of Health, 
and providing psychological and clinical services to women and their families.

Rafah Crossing: Urgent Letter to the EU

30 August 2006

Dear distinguished representatives of the governments of the European Union,

As a specialized human rights organization located in the Gaza Strip, 
we write to express our deep concern over the situation of Rafah 
Terminal on the Gaza Strip- Egypt border. On 15 November 2005, an 
agreement was reached comprising two documents which reflected 
commitments on behalf of the Government of Israel (GoI) and the 
Palestinian National Authority (PNA), with regards to issues of 
movement and access, as well as principles for the working of Rafah 
Terminal (hereinafter: "the agreement"). The aim of this agreement 
was to facilitate the movement of people and goods within the 
Palestinian territories and "to promote peaceful economic development 
and improve the humanitarian situation on the ground".

The GoI has ignored its duties in this regard, however, which has led 
to serious humanitarian and economic consequences. We assert that 
Israel's authority over Rafah and Karni borders is just one example 
of the ways in which Israel continues to exercise effective control 
over Gaza. The use of this control as a tool for inflicting 
collective punishment against the Palestinians living in Gaza is 
contrary to international law and should not be endorsed by the 
European Union. Under no circumstances must the fundamental rights of 
the Palestinian people, such as freedom of movement, be used as a 
bargaining chip to negotiate a process that comes at the cost of 
these rights. Such a process should be based firmly on dignity and 
the principles of human rights and international law.

In the absence of an alternative functioning passenger crossing, 
Rafah crossing now constitutes the only link for Palestinians in the 
Gaza Strip with the outside world. Many facets of Palestinian life 
depend on the functioning of this crossing. It is the only 
operational point for access to healthcare, education and employment 
opportunities, all of which are vital for the development of Gaza's 
economy and the well- being of its population. According to the 
agreement, both Rafah and Karni economic crossing would "operate 
continuously". In reality however, Karni was fully or partially 
closed for 199 days, or 77% of the period between 15 November 2005 
and 31 July 2006, while Rafah was fully or partially closed for 98% 
of the time during the same period.

Under the 1995 Interim Agreement, the West Bank and Gaza Strip 
legally constitute one territorial unit, and thus Israel should not 
restrict the flow of passengers or goods between the two areas. 
Effectively, the agreement states that bus and truck convoys should 
have been in effect from December 2005 and January 2006. Thus far, no 
buses have left Gaza, and the truck convoys leaving the Gaza Strip 
reached an average of only 19 trucks daily during the first three 
months of 2006, well below the required 150. The agreement committed 
the GoI to permitting the export of agricultural goods from Gaza and 
facilitating their speedy exit from Gaza in the interests of 
freshness. No exports have as yet been allowed through Rafah, and 
Karni has been closed for long periods at a time. Gazan farmers have 
suffered deeply and have had to destroy their own sources of 
livelihood due to the lack of possibilities to export fresh produce. 
Whereas Gaza's seaport represents another important potential source 
of economic development, the port also remains inactive despite a 
guarantee under the Agreement that construction of the port would 
begin immediately without Israeli interference.

The closures of Rafah and Karni have severely affected economic 
activity, contributing to rising unemployment and poverty rates in 
Gaza, which now stand at 40% and 78% respectively according to OCHA. 
The closures also severely curtail enjoyment of the Palestinians' 
right to freedom of movement as well as fundamental economic, social 
and cultural rights and rights of the child enshrined in the ICESCR 
and CRC. The right to life is a non-derogable right under the UDHR, 
however the prevention of patients from accessing adequate healthcare 
through Israel's prolonged closure of crossings constitutes a serious 
threat to their lives. During the months of July and August 2006, 
five people died at Rafah crossing whilst waiting in extreme 
circumstances for the border to open. Israel's ongoing abuse of its 
control of Gaza's borders and coastline under the pretext of security 
constitutes collective punishment against the population of Gaza, 
which is forbidden under article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. 
Further, article 35 states that protected persons in an occupied 
territory must be allowed to leave the territory should they need or 
desire to.

Whereas the November 2005 Rafah agreement aimed to improve the 
humanitarian situation in Gaza, the humanitarian and economic 
conditions have in fact worsened and movement restrictions for 
Palestinians in the territories have tightened. In light of the 
upcoming review process of the agreement, we stress that the 
immediate and permanent reopening of Rafah and Karni terminals must 
constitute a first step towards ending ongoing human rights 
violations and such methods of collective punishment. Furthermore, 
the agreement should be seriously reconsidered and ways sought to 
bring Israel's illegal control over Gaza's borders, airspace and 
coastline to a full and permanent end. As distinguished 
representatives of the European Union, effectively the third party in 
this agreement, and as representatives of High contracting Parties to 
the Fourth Geneva Convention, we call upon you in your consideration 
of the reviewing process for the Rafah agreement to:
    * Launch an investigation into violations of basic standards of 
human rights caused by Israel's ongoing control of Gaza's borders;
    * Demand the immediate and permanent opening of Rafah and Karni Crossings;
    * Take actions to ensure that control of the Rafah crossing 
remains solely under the responsibility of the PNA;
    * Ensure that you fulfill your obligations under common article 1 
of the Fourth Geneva Convention to respect, and ensure Israel's 
respect for the Convention and end measures of collective punishment 
as well as violations of international human rights treaties.


Issam Younis
Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights
Gaza Strip

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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