More Palestinian Moms Give Birth at Home
By LARA SUKHTIAN
Associated Press Writer
December 22, 2003
JERUSALEM Because of Israeli roadblocks and travel restrictions in the West Bank, more than half of Palestinian mothers give birth at home instead of risking a ride to the hospital, according to a human rights report released Monday.
The joint report by the Israeli human rights group B'tselem and the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights is the latest evidence of the negative effects of the restrictions, imposed shortly after the latest violence between Israel and the Palestinians erupted in 2000.
Israel has set up dozens of manned checkpoints and more than 600 roadblocks and trenches restricting Palestinian movement, said the U.N. office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Israel says the roadblocks are necessary to keep Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers out, but Palestinians say the restrictions have decimated their economy and caused many other types of hardship.
For example, ambulances often have been blocked at checkpoints, and many mothers, afraid of getting stuck there, prefer giving birth at home or in a local clinic rather than risk childbirth at a roadblock, the report said.
Several dozen Palestinians including at least seven newborns have died because of delays at checkpoints, B'tselem said.
Before the latest conflict, about 95 percent of Palestinian babies were born in hospitals, the report said.
The Israeli army declined to comment on the report's details, but repeated its long-standing position that delays are necessary for "security reasons." The army also said Palestinian militants have used ambulances and medical personnel to attack Israelis.
Shabtai Gold, spokesman for Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, said security concerns cannot justify what he called "excessive delays" of medical personnel and their vehicles.
"The security claims are very shaky, very dubious," he said. "The delays are simply not proportionate to the security concerns. You cannot delay an ambulance for four hours and say it is for security reasons. They are going overboard."
The report found that in 70 percent of calls to the Red Crescent, the local health care organization responsible for transporting most of the sick, ambulances are unable to reach the patient in need.
That forces the sick and injured to make their own way across sometimes 6-foot-high piles of dirt. Ambulances also are forced to take detours, often through rough terrain, just to reach thousands of Palestinians living in hundreds of villages in the West Bank.
The report also accused Israeli troops of "humiliating and abusing medical personnel" and called on the military to immediately remove all "siege checkpoints" and allow Palestinians access to health care "quickly and without delay."
"The current policy with regard to freedom of movement has to end," Gold said. "Freedom of movement is more than just getting from one place to another. It can also be, as in this case, a severe humanitarian issue."
The army recently said it was relaxing the travel restrictions to improve the lives of Palestinians.
Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press
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