MSF Teams in the Palestinian-Occupied Territories Protest Illegal Controls by Armed Militias

Jerusalem, April 4, 2002 — The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says that the obstruction of medical aid for Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories has reached alarming new levels. At a time when ordinary Palestinians are being subjected to intense military pressure, MSF has experienced severe restrictions on its attempts to reach the most isolated families. Even in Hebron and the Gaza Strip, where MSF has been working and where the Israeli army is not currently focusing its attacks, access to medical care is seriously jeopardized.

A particularly disturbing incident took place on the morning of April 2. An MSF medical team made up of a doctor, a translator, and a driver went to the Um Amer area in Hebron district to carry out medical consultations with Palestinian families living in isolated areas. The MSF car was clearly identified with MSF logos and a flag. Each member of the medical team was wearing an MSF jacket.

The team crossed two military checkpoints and was authorized to continue after showing MSF identity cards. The third checkpoint involved three Israeli soldiers jumping from behind some trees and pointing their weapons at the team. The car was allowed to pass after the team explained their mission. But as the team neared the village, two civilians carrying automatic weapons stopped their car again. These men, who appeared to be security guards from a neighboring settlement, asked for ID's and confiscated the car keys while verifying the identification. The car was detained for 30 minutes without any explanation before being allowed to continue.

MSF strongly denounces this latest incident, which illustrates once again the now constant violation of the international humanitarian right to access our patients. It also contradicts the guarantees Israeli Defense Forces offered our teams in the occupied territories concerning freedom of movement for medical teams. In the past, we have asked for and received the right to move unfettered in our work. As the circumstances have deteriorated, though, we are finding that these permissions are less and less reliable. At the moment, even when we receive a go-ahead, we find that we are often denied passage to particular destinations.

MSF considers this to effectively be a removal of our right to access victims of the current conflict as well as a removal of civilians' right to access medical care. We are very concerned about the apparent indifference of the army in such instances. This includes not only the behavior of soldiers at checkpoints, but also the fact that the army allows independent armed militias to intervene, at will, in our work.

MSF is currently trying to deliver medical-psychological services to Palestinian families living in Hebron and the Gaza strip. Our teams, made up of 10 medical expatriates and 23 Palestinian staff, are also trying to reach others towns in the West Bank to assess their medical and emergency needs.