Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Clergy and Physicians Describe "Reign of State Terror" for Baker

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Clergy and Physicians Describe "Reign of State Terror" for Baker

Article excerpt

During Secretary of State James Baker's April Middle East visits, the St. Ives Legal Resource Center (under the Jerusalem Latin Catholic Patriarchate) and the Israeli-Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights (based in Tel Aviv) presented him via the US Consulate General in Jerusalem a joint open letter documenting horrifying instances in which Palestinians were denied urgently needed medical care, and Palestinian physicians were not only prevented from reaching patients, but were tortured for trying to do so.

These Muslim, Christian and Jewish lawyers and doctors had petitioned the Israeli High Court in February to lift the related military-enforced restrictions so lethally intensified by the Gulf crisis curfew, but had received no ruling yet.

They included signed testimony, sworn to before St. Ives Executive Legal Director Lynda Brayer by an Israeli soldier, who described "the seven stages to Hell" that a Palestinian under curfew must go through to get from home to a doctor. The Israeli "openfire policy" (deemed a violation of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) makes it dangerous for a Palestinian to go outdoors at all during a curfew. Even in emergencies the risk may not be worth taking.

To reach a post where one can apply for the required permit to seek medical aid, Palestinians must pass one or more checkpoints where soldiers delay them for hours and then simply say, "You're not sick, go home." Once, alone at an Israeli outpost at 3 am, the soldier reported, he signed a pass for a man and his pregnant wife "whose water was already breaking," but they were stopped at the next checkpoint pending investigation of whether his signature was valid. Such detentions, the soldier declared, can delay a Palestinian for hours even if he or she has all the necessary permits.

Even the medical profession is subject to harassment and intimidation. "I saw how," the sworn testimony continues, "they put a doctor, who was moving around during the curfew, up against a wall with his hands in the air for an hour and a half until they decided what to do with him."

The doctors' and lawyers' joint message to Baker also detailed such Israeli violations of international law as confiscation of Muslim and Christian-owned land for the use of Jewish immigrant settlers, destruction of wells, house demolitions, arbitrary tax raids and the break-up of families by deportation. In conclusion, they said:

"The cumulative effect...coupled with the economic devastation wrought by the unprecedented prolonged curfew, is the institutionalization of a reign of state terror in the occupied territories...We fear that these practices will jeopardize your peace efforts in the region. We urge you to use your good offices to bring these abuses to an immediate end in order that both your political and humanitarian objectives may be realized."

Vatican-Israeli Tensions

The Vatican's 1991 statement on its continuing refusal of formal diplomatic relations with the state of Israel includes a supplementary reason. To its previous objections to Israeli defiance of international norms and agreements it has appended a new one: "The situation of the Catholic Church in Israel and in the territories occupied by Israel."

This addition seems to have been precipitated by the 1990 armed Israeli raid on Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem. Government inspectors, flanked by military police wielding assault rifles, entered that Vatican-run in-stitution with demands for its financial books and $3. …

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