Israel has impounded the only vehicle available to a medical team that provides assistance to 1,500 Palestinians living inside an Israeli military firing zone in the West Bank. This is the second time the vehicle serving residents of Masafer Yatta in the south Hebron hills has been confiscated within one year, cutting off healthcare to an isolated and impoverished population.
The medical team, comprised of a doctor, nurse and driver, belongs to the Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry. They come every week to hamlets in the area, located an hour’s drive on dirt roads from the nearest town of Yatta. The team’s jeep, which also carries medicines, is the only vehicle available for providing medical services to these communities.
Last Thursday, when the team arrived at Khirbet al-Majaz, a Civil Administration patrol told them they were not allowed there without prior coordination, since the area was inside a firing zone. Later, the patrol impounded the jeep and detained the team for half an hour. Dr. Faris Abu-Ali, the team’s doctor, said medical assistance was provided for these villages because of their large distance from a city and because of their meager financial means. “We come here with all the medications we can administer outside a hospital to treat the villagers,” he related.
Last February, the jeep was impounded under similar circumstances by the Civil Administration. It was returned six months later, after the team paid 3,000 shekels ($865) to get it back. Adel Jabour, the team’s driver, said that last time the jeep was confiscated the team couldn’t provide medical care for the entire period, since it was the only vehicle available that could travel those roads.
Firing zone 918 covers 7,400 acres and was declared a closed military zone in the 1980s. In 1999, the army expelled residents from their homes, arguing that they were living in a firing zone illegally. A temporary injunction by the Supreme Court later let them return to their lands. According to Israel, the area was uninhabited when it was declared a firing zone. In the course of the petition filed on this matter, residents provided evidence that they have lived in the area for decades, before the area was conquered in 1967 by Israel.
The Israeli military commented that “The vehicle was impounded by supervisors at the Civil Administration since it was traveling in a fire zone, a forbidden area for vehicles by law. We emphasize that this was done according to our authority and through due procedure. Moreover, we note that the last time this vehicle was impounded, residents were told that entering this area without prior coordination is totally prohibited.”