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The Palestinian Chronicles: Trapped by War
MSF in The Palestinian Chronicles: Trapped by War, 2002
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In September 2002, MSF released the "Palestinian Chronicles: Trapped by War," a collection of articles and diary entries documenting the plight of Palestinian civilians trapped by conflict in Hebron and the Gaza Strip, and whose suffering is generally unknown. Written by MSF doctors and psychologists, the Palestinian Chronicles chart the psychological consequences of living under the continual threat of violence. The following excerpts are taken from the sections "Put to the test" by Dr. Jean-Hervé Bradol, President, MSF-France and "Palestinian interior." Click here for the full report.
Houses razed to the ground, ravaged strawberry fields, olive trees torn from the ground, blocked roads with figures moving like shadows, watchtowers, assault tanks, small military fortresses made of concrete. Gaza is like a vast open-air detention center, watched from land, sea and air.
Sinister Dialogue of the Deaf
In the West Bank, too, the Palestinians are hemmed in. They cannot travel to Israel and it is extremely difficult to move from one town to another. The hundreds of civilians killed since the beginning of this phase of the conflict offer confirmation that, as the desire to separate grows stronger, each side sees less of the other, and the death toll climbs higher.
In Israel, every daily act is accompanied by the fear of being the victim of an attack or of losing a close relative. At any moment, terror can wreak havoc upon day-to-day life.
It is like some sinister dialogue of the deaf, where a good reason is always found to justify the death of people who share no responsibility for the clashes.
The invitation to join one side or the other is accompanied by an obligation to collude with criminal forms of violence. Two examples of this are the deadly attacks against Israeli civilians and – less spectacular but ultimately more lethal – the Israeli army's shooting of Palestinian civilians. If humanitarian action is to be effective, it must detach itself from political positions that seek to manipulate people's various origins, their spiritual beliefs and their suffering; that invite people to deny the humanity of the adversary; and that reduce an entire people to a single figure: whether terrorist or settler.
An order created by the violence
Usually it is the relief that MSF provides to the wounded, to the starving, and to exiles living in conditions of desperate poverty that occupies our teams in countries at war. Here, displaced people and refugees make up the majority of a people that has lived in exile for decades. They have had time to learn how to care for their wounded and their sick and to establish a public health policy. They receive considerable help from abroad. On the Israeli side, the resources are there to care for wounded soldiers and bring assistance to civilians who are victims of attacks. A permanent order created by the violence.
Palestinians in these districts must face constant grief, physical and psychological injury, and arrests, and live in a state of growing destitution caused by the economic blockade. These are the people with whom we work in the Gaza Strip and Hebron. We bring medical, psychological and social assistance to their homes, which have been transformed by the fighting into a frontline.
MSF has been working in the Palestinian territories for nearly ten years. Every day, our doctors and psychologists witness the profound trauma suffered by the Palestinian people. Even if MSF's presence in this crisis is not as great as it is in Angola, Chechnya or Afghanistan, that does not mean that the suffering of the Palestinian people is any less intense. Assistance to those affected by armed conflict is never a matter of simply providing food and shelter or healing bodies: only the key players involved can determine what can be tolerated, in terms of offense to human dignity.
As it attempts to seal off the population of the West Bank, the Israeli government is also trying to pressure humanitarian organizations to become the social workers of an oppressive system designed to imprison an entire people. The Palestinian people's capacity has been sorely tried. Now it is the independence of foreign aid workers that will be put to the test.