by Miren Gutierrez
(IPS) JERUSALEM --
went into labor at one in the morning," Houriyyah Mir'ie recalls. "We took the car to Jericho. At the checkpoint the Israelis wouldn't let me pass."
The checkpoint stood between her and the hospital. Houriyyah, who had come from Jiftlek in the West Bank, pleaded with the soldiers but they would not let the car through. She walked two kilometers, and collapsed from exhaustion. The baby died.
Houriyyah is among 52 Palestinian women who have given birth at checkpoints since the start of the second Intifadah three years ago.
Twenty-nine of those newborn babies died, says Ziad Yaish, project officer with the United Nations Program of Assistance to the Palestinian People. The figures are based in statistics at the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
The plight of women failing to make it to a hospital in the Occupied Territories has caused considerable concern; the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has even released a video 'Birth at the Checkpoint'.
"It is quite incredible that the lack of access to medical care caused by the closures and checkpoints does not solicit international action," says Laura Wick, researcher in reproductive health. "This situation affects women and children the most because they are most frequently in need of health care," she told IPS on email.
The Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees has documented around 80 deaths between Oct. 11, 2000 and Dec. 10, 2002 as a direct result of Israelis blocking medical treatment for Palestinians. Several of these were women or their newborn babies.
"Even in a UN car, going through a checkpoint is no joke," says Yaish. "Earlier, going to Ramallah from Jerusalem took 15 minutes, now it takes 90 minutes. The closure is making matters worse in terms of access to health. Something as simple as the right of a woman to give birth, to receive health care, is denied."
Israeli soldiers have instructions to let ambulances through checkpoints. But these instructions are not always followed.
The medical charity Red Crescent registered 1,115 instances of denial of access to its ambulances from Sept. 29, 2000 to Oct. 24, 2003. The reason for such denial was not stated.
Other medical organizations such as the World Health Organization, Physicians for Human Rights, and Doctors of the World have warned that persisting restrictions will worsen the crisis, though many medical personnel admit that violence by Palestinian militants adds to the problem.
In the West Bank alone there are more than 100 checkpoints and up to 400 ditches and earth mounds blocking roads. Israel says the blockades are vital to security in the midst of a Palestinian uprising in which more than 800 Israelis and 2,200 Palestinians have been killed.
Israeli officials acknowledge that such restrictions often hold up ambulances. But they say ambulances have been used at times to smuggle weapons and ammunition.
Women are suspected also of carrying weapons across the border. On Oct. 14 the border police found a gun, two clips of ammunition and a knife hidden in the baby carriage of a Palestinian woman at Hizme checkpoint north of Jerusalem.
The difficulties checkpoints cause go beyond denial of emergency access. Eighteen health workers have been killed, and 370 injured in the violence. At least 240 ambulances have been shot at and 34 completely destroyed by gunfire and shelling, the UNFPA says.
On any given day, more than 75 percent of medical staff are unable to get to work, the Palestinian Ministry of Health says. More than 14,278 workdays of health staff have been lost in the West Bank alone over the last two years, ministry officials say.
There are other indirect consequences. The poverty rate in the Palestinian areas rose to 60 percent in 2001 compared to 20 percent in 2000 before the start of the Intifadah, Yaish says. "Most people cannot afford a health insurance now," Yaish says. Many are turning to health services in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories.
Hospital deliveries have decreased from 97.4 percent before the Intifadah to 67 percent, the UNFPA says in a report. Antenatal and postnatal attendance rates have decreased. The Ministry of Health of the Palestinian Authority estimates that as few as 30 percent of eligible women attend maternity services.
"A marked increase in the number of abortions is resulting from fear during incursions, prolonged stress and possibly physical weakness linked to the deteriorating nutritional status of the Palestinian population," says a source that works with refugees.
The number of pregnancies in the refugee camps with an unknown outcome is increasing, the source says.
November 5, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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