MSF medical teams in the Palestinian Occupied Territories protest against illegal controls by armed militias

Jerusalem - The international medical relief organisation Médecins Sans Frontieres (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 the most 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 focussing its attacks, access to medical care is seriously jeopardised. A particularly disturbing incident took place on the morning of April 2. The MSF medical team [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 stickers and a flag. Each member of the medical team was wearing an MSF jacket. The team crossed two military checkpoints and were authorised 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 eventually allowed to pass after the team explained their mission. As they were about to reach the village, their car was stopped again by two civilians carrying automatic weapons. These men, who appeared to be security guards from a neighbouring settlement, asked for ID's and confiscated the car keys while verifying the identification. The car was detained for half an hour 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 freely. It is also in total contradiction to the guarantees offered to our teams by the Israeli Defence Forces 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. However, as the circumstances have deteriorated, 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 be effectively a removal of our right to access victims of the current conflict as it is also a removal of the right of the civilians to access medical care. We are very concerned about the apparent indifference of the army in such instances. This includes not only the behaviour of the soldiers at checkpoints, but also the fact that the army allows independent armed militia to intervene, at will, in our work. MSF is currently trying to deliver medico-psychological services to Palestinian families living in Hebron and the Gaza strip. Our teams, made up of ten medical expatriates and 23 Palestinian staff are also trying to reach others towns in the West Bank to assess all medical and emergency needs.