Barrier to Humanity

There is no crueler aspect of the closure that has been imposed for more than a year on three-and-a-half-million Palestinians than the denial of freedom of movement to women in labor and people who are sick. No security grounds can justify this disgraceful behavior.

Abdullah Abu Zaida is a five-month-old infant who at week's end was fighting for his life in Mokassed Hospital in East Jerusalem. Aida, his mother, has already lost two sons to a genetic illness that attacks the metabolism of her children. Abdullah is under the care of Prof. Orly Al-Peleg, a specialist in metabolic ailments at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, who reported that the infant's condition was good. That is, until the night between last Thursday and Friday.

On that night, Aida noticed the baby had taken a turn for the worse and she wanted to rush to Mokassed Hospital. It was very late at night when she left her house in the village of Ketana with the baby. At around 2 A.M. she arrived at the Ramot roadblock at the entrance to Jerusalem. The Israeli troops manning the site, apparently from the Border Police, left her no room for argument: "Go look for another hospital," they told her, she related afterward. The desperate and terrified mother had no choice but to retrace her steps, carrying the sick baby in her arms. The two of them wandered about for hours, until, at about 4:45 A.M., they arrived at the A-Ram roadblock. Aida crossed the barrier on foot, because of the constant traffic jam there, and kept going until she found a taxi to take her to Mokassed. She and the infant got there at 7 A.M., five hours after setting out. Dr. Khatem Hamash said the baby was in critical condition and had suffered irreversible brain damage.

The Israel Defense Forces spokesman said in response that "the allegations in question are not known" to the spokesman's office, and added, as usual: "A clear directive exists that in humanitarian cases the soldiers and the policemen permit Palestinians to cross in order to receive medical treatment as quickly as possible."

At the end of the week the Physicians for Human Rights associations demanded the defense minister order the arrest of the soldiers who refused to permit the mother and the infant pass through the roadblock. The chance of that happening is about the same as the likelihood that Abdullah will be the last patient to be stopped at army and Border Police roadblocks in the territories.

These are long since not "irregularities." In the past several months the physicians' association has received about 60 complaints about sick individuals and about ambulances being stopped at roadblocks. The actual number is probably far higher, as not all the cases are reported to Israeli organizations. According to the physicians' group, soldiers at the Burka junction roadblock prevented the passage of a boy who had almost drowned, and he died at the roadblock; Frayal Idris, who was about to give birth, was delayed on the Jordan Rift Valley road and lost the baby at the roadblock; Mohammed Kalipha, who was ill, was stopped for more than an hour at a roadblock on the way from his village to the hospital in Jenin, until he died; Abir Snober, a girl, was delayed on the way to get chemotherapy; three weeks ago, Fatma Abed Rabbo was held up at a roadblock and gave birth prematurely there, and the infant was dead by the time they reached a hospital in Bethlehem. She gave birth after five years of fertility treatments.

Many people are compelled to organize for exhausting trips in order to get to medical treatment. Last week, five patients from different places traveled in an ambulance that left from Jenin: Rajeh Oudah went to Ramallah for an eye operation, Amin Abu Zayad and Ibrahim Hameisi also went to Ramallah, for catheterization procedures, and Leila and Rami Abu Muyas were on their way to Nablus for dialysis treatment. The soldiers at the roadblock by the settlement of Chomesh let them through, but at the Shevei Shomron checkpoint, they were told to turn around and go back. Rami and Leila Abu Muyas, who are brother and sister, make these long, arduous trips - sometimes four hours each way, depending on the soldiers' frame of mind and humanity - three times a week so they can reach the hospital for their dialysis. There is no room here to describe the dozens of cases in which ambulances have been delayed. Everyone who travels the roads in the West Bank encounters these Palestinian ambulances - carrying patients, medicines, women in labor or individuals who have been wounded - parked by the roadside next to roadblocks and waiting, and waiting. The army's declared position, based on directives to soldiers at roadblocks to allow swift passage for humanitarian reasons, has no basis in reality. Either the directive does not reach the soldiers or they violate it as a matter of routine. It's difficult to decide which of the two possibilities is worse.

There is no crueler aspect of the closure that has been imposed for more than a year on three-and-a-half-million Palestinians than the denial of freedom of movement to women in labor and people who are sick. No security grounds can justify this disgraceful behavior. When a phenomenon as monstrous as this - is there any other way to describe it - reaches these dimensions, the Israel Defense Forces and the Border Police can no longer hide behind hollow responses. Responsibility rests directly on the shoulders of the defense minister and the chief of staff. Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who is always talking, with demonstrative paternal concern, about the soldiers as "the boys" and "the sons," and with sanctimoniousness about his intention to avoid harming the civilian population, can no longer wash his hands of the matter. If the good of "the boys" is really dear to his heart, he must take action to ensure that they do not become dehumanized at their young age. A tough stand on the need to carry out orders and harsh punitive measures against those who violate them can eradicate the phenomenon. Ben-Eliezer, together with the chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, whom no one suspects of being ultra-sensitive to human rights in the territories, are to blame for the behavior of the IDF's soldiers toward women in labor and the sick.