Physicians for Human Rights 21 May 2004
The court will review at a later date the demand that a delegation from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel be allowed into Rafah. Professor Dunchin, part of the delegation, said that he cannot understand how the Israeli army sent him to Rwanda and Kosovo but would not let him into Rafah. Medical Supplies sent by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel today crossed through Karni Crossing and will hopefully reach Rafah tomorrow.
Today the Israeli High Court accepted the Israeli army’s claims in response to an urgent petition filed yesterday by four Israeli human rights organization: Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Center for the Defence of the Individual and B’tselem.
During the hearing, which lasted for well over 2 hours, the court accepted the army’s claims that in fact all is well in the Rafah region and that there are very few problems related to water, food, medicines and freedom of movement for ambulances and patients. The Israeli JAG claimed that whatever problems do exist are being addressed by the army. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel continues to receive information from the Rafah region that in fact water, electricity and food, especially milk, remain problematic. Also, freedom of movement for ambulances and patients remains a problem. Sources also report that even if the electricity, which pumps the water, is returned, the water infrastructure is severely damaged.
While the hearing was taking place Physicians for Human Rights-Israel tried to transfer a large quantity of sterile medical equipment to the hospital in Rafah, after having received requests from local medical officials. Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza helped coordinate the transfer from the Palestinian side. Although the transfer was arranged yesterday with the army, when the delegation arrived at Erez crossing they were told they could not transfer the equipment through- even though Palestinians were waiting on the other side to receive the shipment- and that they would have to go to Karni Crossing. At Karni, the delegation was told that since it was after 12pm they could not make the transfer. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel complained about this to the army and shortly thereafter was allowed to unpack the goods. The delegation was then sent back. A short while later the Palestinian DCO confirmed that they indeed received the packages. The equipment has not yet reached Rafah, but is expected to arrive tomorrow.
The court also did not yet accept the petitioners’ demand that a medical delegation from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel be allowed into Rafah in order to offer aid requested by local medical officials in Rafah and in order to help assess the situation, and will review it at a later date. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has not been allowed into the Gaza Strip in the past three and a half years, since the High Court upheld the army’s decision on this matter. The court did agree that Arab members of the delegation would be allowed in, however Jewish members would not. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel condemns this decision which not only will not allow the full delegation to enter the Gaza Strip, but also differentiates between members of medical staff based on their ethnicity. Such separation should never be done. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel prides itself as being an organization based on co-existence and has always maintained projects, such as the Mobile Clinic in the West Bank, which allow for Arab-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.
Professor Yoel Dunchin, a member of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, was present during the hearing. Prof. Dunchin took part in official Israeli army delegations to Kosovo and Rwanda during the conflicts in those areas, in order to assess the situation and in regards to the work in field hospitals. He said after the hearing that he cannot understand how the army sent him and others into such war zones so far away from his home, but will not let him into the conflict zone where his neighbors, the Palestinians, live.
Also, the court agreed that the preliminary report the army is current preparing in regards to the incident in which the army fired at a Palestinian demonstration and killed at least 8 demonstrators, of whom at least 4 were children, would be sufficient at this time and that there was no need for a Military Police investigation, as the petitioners had demanded.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has noticed small changes taking place since the hearing began in the High Court this morning. It is still too early to tell how the overall picture will change. However, in the past human rights groups have noticed that even a rejection at the High Court can still bring about positive changes, since the media coverage, and the fact that the army notices that it is being watched, places pressure on the army to accept many demands made by the groups in regards to human rights and humanitarian law. Israel, as an occupying power, must care for the medical and humanitarian needs of the population.