Closure forces two women to give birth in cars

Banan Yusef and her baby. (‘Abd al-Karim Sa’adi/B’Tselem)

The village of ‘Azzun ‘Atmah is cut off from the rest of the West Bank by the separation barrier. State officials say the village was made into an enclave primarily to place the Sha’are Tikva settlement on the “Israeli” side of the barrier. The only way the residents can get to the rest of the West Bank is through a gate in the barrier that is open only part of the day. When it is closed, soldiers remain in the guard tower by the gate. When residents need to leave the village for any purpose, including medical treatment, they have to call to the soldiers and beg them to open the gate.

B’Tselem has twice contacted the military authorities and warned them of the danger inherent in closing the gate at night. The first warning came following the death of ‘Adel ‘Omer, a young man from the village who was seriously injured when a tractor overturned. Soldiers waited more than an hour and a half before opening the gate so he could be taken to hospital.

In response to B’Tselem’s requests, the army stated: “The procedure is that the crossing gate is open 24 hours and when civilians come to the gate, the soldiers come down from the pill-box to open it.” Testimonies given to B’Tselem indicate otherwise. In the past month alone, two women from the village had to give birth in their cars after soldiers at the gate did not allow them to pass to get to hospital in nearby Qalqiliya.

On 12 December 2007, at around 2:00am, Tamas ‘Ali came to the gate in labor, accompanied by her husband. The gate was closed and the soldiers refused to open it, despite the husband’s pleas. After being delayed for more than half an hour, the couple decided to return home, but she began to deliver before arriving home. Her daughter, a nurse, was summoned and assisted in the delivery, which took place inside the car.

In the other case, which took place on 15 December 2007, Banan Yusef entered labor and arrived at the gate at 2:50am. Relatives who were with her in the car got out and asked the two soldiers standing next to the locked gate to let her pass so she could get to the hospital, but they refused. At 4:30, after a delay of more than an hour and a half, she began to deliver. By this stage, the gate had been opened, as it is every day, to enable farmers and workers to pass, and she was taken to a midwife in the nearby village of Habla. As a result of the conditions of delivery, Yusef had to undergo surgery.

The parts of the separation barrier built inside the West Bank are illegal and severely infringe human rights, and it is Israel’s duty to dismantle them. If Israel believes that it requires a physical barrier for security reasons, it must build it along the Green Line or on Israeli soil. Until then, B’Tselem calls on the government of Israel to dismantle the section surrounding ‘Azzun ‘Atmah, to enable the village’s residents free access to their lands, and to return to them the property that was seized to build the barrier.

Until the section is torn down, Israel must keep the gate north of ‘Azzun ‘Atmah open around the clock so that residents can travel to other parts of the West Bank and lead a normal life.

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