Received on March 14, 2001

Starvation at the Palestinian door
Prolonged closure is having a devastating effect on the territories,
charges the Red Cross.
By Joseph Algazy

The roadblocks, prolonged encirclements and restrictions on movement  that
the IDF is currently imposing in the Palestinian territories is  having a
seriously adverse effect on the general population, in three areas in
particular: economy, health and education, Rene Kosirnik, the head of the
Red Cross delegation to Israel, has told Ha'aretz. He noted that until now
the traditional family solidarity and the Palestinian welfare services had
prevented actual starvation, "But if the current situation persists, this
could happen to the most destitute families.".The International Red Cross
has recently voiced its concerns about the situation in the territories
publicly, more so than in the past. Its representatives in Tel Aviv and
Geneva are pointing an accusatory finger at the Israeli authorities,
especially the Israel Defense Forces. They have defined the manner in which
the IDF has dealt with the Intifada as "restrictive, physical,
administrative and systematic steps, and collective punishment which
severely violates international humanitarian law, which requires that the
occupying power ensure that the occupied population continue to live, as far
as possible, in a normal manner, as during peacetime."

The head of the Red Cross delegation told Ha'aretz that the Red Cross
representatives visiting last week in the area of the Sudra village near
Ramallah discovered that blocking off the only road in the area caused many
villages to be cut off. Already last Wednesday, there was a problem in
providing medical assistance when a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance was
unable to drive through. While the residents succeeded in providing the
ambulance with a temporary road, the IDF later dug that road up too.

Another area suffering from being cut off and from the prolonged closure is
the coastal strip in Al-Mouazi in Gaza, which is surrounded by the sea, the
Egyptian border and a group of settlements. According to Kosirnik, the IDF
will not allow a single Palestinian car out of there. There was a time when
even the Red Cross was only able to reach the area on foot.

Discussing the negative economic impact on the population, Kosirnik noted
that people have difficulty or are unable to reach their places of work.
There is no way of knowing if a particular road will be open or closed to
Palestinian traffic. A one-way trip from Nablus to Ramallah that took 45
minutes before the current Intifada now takes two or three hours, if it is
at all possible.

Farmers are unable to work remote fields or market their produce, and
sometimes they are forced to walk to market, carrying their produce on their
backs. The Israel market is closed to them and the internal Palestinian
market is very weak because of the general lack of income. People have been
forced to use up their reserves. The situation is growing increasingly
worse, and could even lead to starvation.

The small amount of material assistance recently extended by the Red Cross
to besieged villages has three goals: to help those in need, to remain in
contact with the suffering population, and to send a message to the Israeli
authorities concerning the existence of a serious problem. Ambulances
encounter difficulties at roadblocks when transferring patients, doctors,
nurses and medical equipment. Teachers are unable to reach schools located
outside their own towns or villages. High school and university students
miss school days. The roads have become dangerous because of acts of
violence from both sides.

Kosirnik noted that according to international law, as the occupying force,
Israel may restrict the movement of the civilian population on condition
that the restriction is required for military reasons for a very limited
period, that it does not adversely affect the day-to-day lives of the
civilian population and does not represent collective punishment. The
military and policing steps must be adapted to the circumstances.

The high number and continuing casualties indicate a dramatic escalation in
the use of force by the IDF towards the civilian Palestinian population.
Assassinations are absolutely forbidden. If it is necessary from a military
or police aspect to take someone prisoner, it is only permitted to arrest
him.

"It is clear that some of the reasons of violence cannot be explained or
justified as a military necessity, for example a person killed in his bed,
at the entrance to his home, in his field or car."

Already in the second month of the Intifada, last November, the Red Cross
determined that the presence of the Israeli settlements in the territories
was impacting harshly on the general Palestinian population and is contrary
to the fourth Geneva Conference.

The Red Cross has so far been cautious not to define certain actions by the
IDF and Israel as "war crimes" because it does not consider itself a judging
agency. Human rights organizations and international media, on the other
hand, have accused the IDF of committing war crimes. The killing of a
civilian or the transfer of a civilian population by the occupying force to
the occupied territory - in other words the settlements - are defined as war
crimes. In their view, a considerable proportion of the steps taken by the
IDF in the territories - such as the confiscation of Palestinian land, the
paving of bypass roads, restrictions of Palestinian traffic in the areas
near the settlements - are not being carried out by the IDF to protect
itself, but rather to protect the settlements. The settlements and the
settlers are a political problem that the Israeli authorities are trying to
solve by using military means, they say.

The head of the Red Cross delegation noted that his organization condemns
all attacks against civilians in Israel, such as the recent terror bombing
in Netanya, considering them "terrorist actions which are absolutely and
unconditionally forbidden," just as it condemns indiscriminate collective
punishment of the Palestinian population.

Kosirnik also complained about the problem of visits by relatives of
prisoners that live on the West Bank (not Gaza) in Israeli prisons, which
were stopped at the beginning of the Intifada. After they were renewed three
weeks ago, they were again halted by the Red Cross because in Kosirnik's
view "the conditions of passage were unbearable." Today negotiations are
being conducted to find a solution to this humanitarian problem.

Last week Kosirnik met with the families of the Israeli soldiers being held
by the Hezbollah. "The families expressed their concern, suffering,
frustration and hopes," he related, "and I told them in response that the
Red Cross maintained frequent contact with the Lebanese government and the
Hezbollah in the matter concerning their loved ones."

During the conversation, he told the families that Red Cross representatives
visit Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, except for two: Mustafa Dirani and
Sheikh Abd al Karim Obeid.