West Bank barrier a 'health hazard'

New report says barrier being built by Israel limits Palestinian access to medical care.

    Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh reports on how West Bank families have been affected by the barrier

    Israel's separation barrier makes it difficult for Palestinians living in the West Bank to obtain proper health care, according to a new report from the United Nations.

    The report, prepared by the Office of the Co-ordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, found that thousands of Palestinians have limited access to East Jerusalem hospitals because of the barrier.

    Ambulances are routinely delayed at checkpoints, and Palestinian vehicles are not allowed to pass through barrier checkpoints, forcing sick or elderly patients to walk.

    Some Palestinians living in the West Bank cannot obtain permits to receive medical care in East Jerusalem - or they receive permits for shorter durations of time than the treatment requires.

    "Males aged between 15 and 30 often have their requests for permits turned down on the grounds of security," the UN wrote.

    "In many cases, it is also difficult for parents of sick children or for family members to obtain permits to escort patients to Jerusalem."

    Israel's civil administration told Al Jazeera that 84 per cent of Palestinians who apply are granted permits to access hospitals or other medical facilities.

    Verdict anniversary

    Friday is the sixth anniversary of an International Court of Justice ruling that declared the security barrier illegal. The court called on Israel to dismantle the barrier and to compensate Palestinians affected by its construction.

    Israel ignored the ruling, and construction continues: 61 per cent of the 707km barrier has now been built, according to the United Nations.

    Palestinians hold routine protests against the barrier in the West Bank [AFP]

    Roughly nine per cent of the West Bank's territory will sit on the "Israeli" side of the finished barrier.

    A number of villages are completely or partially surrounded by the barrier.

    The UN's report noted that the barrier has also hurt farmers in the West Bank. Hundreds of farmers own land that sits between the barrier and the Green Line, the ceasefire line drawn at the end of the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war.

    Those farmers need to obtain permits to work their own land, and can only access their property through one of 57 barrier gates.

    "The majority of the gates only open during the olive harvest season, and usually only for a limited period during the day," the UN said.

    "Farmers are not permitted to stay on their land over night and must return at the last gate opening time."

    More than 7,000 Palestinians live in those "seam zones" between the security barrier and the Green Line. They have little access to hospitals or other medical facilities once the barrier gates close for the night.

    "Emergency medical care during those night hours requires co-ordination with the Israeli authorities, leading to serious delays," the UN wrote.

    '21st-century colonisation"

    The Israeli government started building the security barrier in 2002, after a wave of suicide bombings inside Israel. The government insists it is a temporary measure.

    Few Palestinians believe that, and polls routinely show that halting the wall's construction is one of their main concerns.

    Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator in the Palestinian Authority, recently called the barrier "colonisation in the 21st century".

    "The wall is one of the ugliest manifestations of this grave violation of international law," Erekat said on Thursday.

    "It separates farmers from their lands, children from their schools and families from each other. It is a land grab disguised as a security measure."

    In fact, the Israeli government has taken steps which suggest the barrier will not be short-lived. Earlier this year, for example, Israeli officials said they were designing electronic key cards that farmers could use to access their land.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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