Israeli and Palestinian civilians: victims of an endless conflict


These words were first spoken in 1979, during the founding mission of Médecins du Monde, in favour of the Vietnamese Boat People in the China Sea. They have now become a part of our organisation’s identity.

Since that first mission, the history of Médecins du Monde has been marked by the concern to provide medical care for civilians and to bear witness to the traumatic experiences of civilian populations caught up in countless conflicts; from the early 1980s, in El Salvador, Afghanistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, Croatian, Serbian and Moslem Bosnian communities in Yugoslavia, the Albanian majority then the Serbian and Gipsy minorities in Kosovo, today in Chechnya, and the list goes on.

There are no right or wrong victims. These words also apply to the civilian populations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Recent historical background

In the wake of the 1967 “Six Day War” involving several neighbouring Arab states and Israel, Israel took control of different territories.

These were the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which were part of Jordan, the Gaza strip which was under Egyptian administration, and the Golan Heights, belonging to Syria.

The UN Security Council resolution 242 demanded, on the one hand, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Occupied territories, and, on the other hand, the right of all the nations present in the region to live in peace with safe, recognised borders.

However, East Jerusalem was officially annexed by Israel and, over the years, many Israeli settlements were set up in the Occupied territories.

The UN Security Council demanded in vain that Israel renounce the building of these “settlement colonies” in the Occupied territories1.

After the Oslo agreements were signed in 1993 by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Israeli government, the Israeli army withdrew

from a certain number of Territories and transferred some responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority. Three zones were defined.

In Zone A, containing 98% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank, internal affairs and domestic security were under Palestinian control, only external security remained under Israeli responsibility. In Zone B, domestic and external security were both under Israeli control. Zone C was completely under Israeli control.

The failure of the Camp David and Taba negotiations and the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000 led to an escalation of violence that has persisted to this day.

Since 2002 and, in particular, since “operation defensive shield”, the Israeli army has made a large number of incursions into the different zones in the West Bank and in the Gaza strip, and reoccupied certain locations. Today, these zones are no longer a reality, for the Israeli army has reoccupied zone A from which it had previously withdrawn its forces. Military operations now take place in all 3 zones. According to a statement by the Israeli Prime Minister “Oslo has been buried”.

Civilians are the main victims

As a humanitarian medical organisation, for many years now Médecins du Monde has been developing medical programmes for the benefit of the Palestinian population.

Alongside its programmes, Médecins du MondeDwishes to denounce, in the context of this conflict, the violence perpetrated against the civilian populations by the forces present.

The civilians on both sides have paid heavily for the escalation in violence, in Israel as in the Occupied territories.

A first document was produced a year ago, based on field surveillance work. This report described, assessed and qualified, with respect to International Humanitarian Law, the actions of the Israeli army against the Palestinian civilian population, within the framework of the “Defensive shield” operation in the town of Nablus2.

Here we are presenting the second part of the work conducted by our teams. The purpose is once more to describe, measure and qualify, again with respect to International Humanitarian Law, the actions of the armed Palestinian groups aimed at the Israeli civilian population, which are a part of the armed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The role of civil societies

Médecins du Monde is convinced that civil societies on both sides have a key role to play to escape this spiral of terror and commit to a peaceful solution.

Hundreds of Palestinian intellectuals, well-known personalities and politicians have signed an appeal for an end to the attacks against civilians. The signatories can see no benefits arising from “military” operations aimed at civilians in Israel, “apart from the consecration of hatred between our people and the Israeli people and the widening of the gulf between them. They kill the hope of seeing two peoples living side by side in neighbouring states”.

The same peace initiatives exist and are active in Israel. They are expressed on a political level by the Shalom Arshav movement (Peace Now), by the political party Meretz, by the voices of intellectuals such as Amos Oz, David Grossman, academics like Ilan Greilsammer or Eli Barnavi, Human Rights organisations such as B’Tselem, Physicians For Human Rights, and religious personalities such as Emile Shousani (Nazareth priest) and the religious organisation “dove” Netivot Shalom (the Paths of Peace).

Médecins du Monde has always endeavoured to strive in this direction : to help to bring the Israeli and Palestinian medical communities closer together. In 1992, we organised a first colloquium in Paris, between Palestinian and Israeli colleagues. At the end of 2000, when the 2nd Intifada was in full force, a second meeting was organised at the organisation’s headquarters, to help maintain the dialogue between the two medical communities. Since then, in Israel and in the Palestinian territories, we have continued to keep the dialogue open and encourage co-operation. We have observed that they are still just as keen to meet and work together.

In September 2003, Médecins du Monde will be involved in the “medical days for peace” organised by the city of Lille, which is twinned with the towns of Nablus and Safed.

In this way, Médecins du Monde initiates medical co-operation and tries to help maintain bridges between the medical communities of the two sides.

But we also know that the breaches of the fundamental principles of International Humanitarian Law have a radical effect, day after day, on public opinion. These breaches nurture hatred and destroy the forces for peace. They render vain the efforts to find a political solution and therefore durable peace in the region.

We therefore feel obliged to describe these violent acts, from our work in the field and from eyewitness accounts, and to qualify them with respect to International Humanitarian Law, denounce them, call upon the parties in the conflict to respect the principles of this legislation, and call upon the international communities to do everything possible to make sure these principles are respected.

This is what we endeavoured to do in the first report presented in July, 2002, jointly with the FIDH, entitled “Operation ‘Defensive Shield’ Nablus”. Here, we are presenting the second part of our work, based on the observations we made in 2002.

To download the full report (PDF) click here.

Related Links:

  • Operation Defensive Shield - Nablus, FIDH, Médecins du Monde, May 2002
  • Israeli and Palestinian civilians: victims of an endless conflict, FIDH, Médecins du Monde, August 2002