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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 22:57 GMT 23:57 UK
Israel's stranglehold on Jenin
Arab Israeli doctors confront Israelis at checkpoint
Israel is under pressure to say why Jenin is still closed
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By Tarik Kafala
BBC News Online, Nablus
line

About 150 Israeli Arab medics gathered at the main Walajeh checkpoint into Jenin early on Wednesday morning.

They hoped to gain access to the city and the Jenin refugee camp which the Red Cross has described as "resembling an earthquake zone".


I used to treat Jews... when the Katyusha rockets were falling - my oath told me to treat the injured then, and I'm going to do that now

Mohammed Bakri
Israeli Arab doctor

On a hot, dusty day, doctors in clean white smocks, many with stethoscopes at the ready on their necks and their medical cases in hand, milled about the checkpoint for more than two hours.

They had a lorry and minibus packed with all kinds of medical supplies.

A delegation representing them argued, cajoled, gently harassed and sometimes shouted at the commanding Israel Defence Forces (IDF) officer at the checkpoint to let them through.

According to the IDF, the whole of Jenin was again a closed military zone and no one apart from soldiers and settlers who lived beyond the checkpoint was getting through.

Arab Israeli doctors confront Israeli tank crew
Israel contests reports of hundreds of deaths in the Jenin camp
"There are injured people in there," Dr Mohammed Bakri, one of the party's negotiators, told BBC News Online.

"We are told that people are dying from lack of treatment as we speak. Our oath tells us that we must treat the sick and we are going to get through whatever they say. Let them try and stop us.

"I used to treat Jews in Kiryat Shmona [Israeli city near Lebanese border] in 1982 when the Katyusha rockets were falling. My oath told me to treat the injured then, and I'm going to do that now.

"We have had emergency calls from inside Jenin and we must do something. It's calm in there. They have finished shooting and killing and destroying."

Jenin refugee camp was largely reduced to rubble during the Israeli army's offensive in the West Bank.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said on Wednesday that they were refused permission from the IDF to take earth-moving equipment into the camp.

Many are believed to be still buried alive beneath the camp's collapsed buildings.

Some of the medics wanted to storm the checkpoint - to walk towards and through it en masse, to see what the soldiers would do. Others were not so keen.

From time to time, a chant would break out and banners reading "We want to save the lives of women and children" were made and brandished.

Celebration

In the middle of this, a group of about 25 Israelis rolled by waving national flags. Wednesday was Israeli Independence Day, a time when Israelis visit army bases to express solidarity with the soldiers.

The group, from a kibbutz on Mount Gilboa inside Israel, was led by an older man armed with an M-16 rifle.

Israeli celebrates Independence Day with the troops
The doctors found the day's celebrations distasteful
The Israelis went into the small IDF encampment shaking hands with the soldiers and offering them sweets and cold drinks.

"We have come to support our soldiers, our brothers in these days when they can't be at home with their families," said Nitzam Aviram.

"To tell you the truth, if we'd known the doctors were here trying to get in we wouldn't have come. Good luck to them."

The Israelis sat down in a circle and sang patriotic songs along to two strummed guitars, a mouth organ and hand claps. There was no camp fire, but it would have suited the scene.

The increasingly frustrated medics looked on aghast.

There was no interaction at all between the groups, each keeping firmly to their side of the road that led to the checkpoint.

After about an hour, the Israelis got back into their minibuses and moved off to the next army base in the area.

Scuffles

Among the Israeli Arab medics, tempers began to fray as arguments with the IDF commander got more and more heated.

An Israeli armoured personnel carrier (APC) approached the checkpoint but was blocked by the medics who refused to move.

As the carrier nudged forward, driving the medics back, Israeli soldiers moved in to drag the protesters away.

A brief scuffle broke out, a few smocks were torn and someone had their glasses crushed underfoot.

The APC moved through to chants of "Fascism will not work" but the IDF had made their point and the plan to walk through the checkpoint was dropped.

After much discussion, the medics got into their cars, minibuses and a Nazareth Angels Travel Company coach and headed off in a long caravan to a the nearby village of Salem.

The caravan climbed to the top of a hill overlooking rolling fields and, about five kilometres away, Jenin.

The plan was to set out across the fields by foot carrying the cases of medicine, but within minutes the IDF and Israeli border police arrived on the scene.

Apparently the fields between Salem and Jenin were full of Israeli soldiers and the medics were likely to be shot at if they walked down the hill.

The negotiations kicked off again. The Israeli border police appeared to be more sympathetic to the medics and their mission.

Talks dragged on into the afternoon and at about 1400 a group of 60 medics with as much medicine as they could carry were loaded onto army jeeps and escorted into Jenin.

City in turmoil

From inside the city, one of the medics, Nimr Hussein, told BBC News Online that the doctors had got into Jenin but not its refugee camp.

They were able to treat hundreds of people and deliver their medicine to the city's hospital.


Everybody is asking me for news of people I have never heard of

Nimr Hussein
Medic

"There are people in the city looking for their relatives,"said Mr Hussein said.

"There are children looking for their parents. Everybody is asking me for news of people I have never heard of.

"People are picking through the rubble of their houses looking for the dead. There are many injured people who have not been able to get to the hospital.

"We found a 20 or 25-year-old man who had a bullet wound in his side, and two bullets in his hand - still there after 10 days. We got him escorted to the nearest hospital, in Afula, in Israel. He will have his hand amputated.

"We are treating many light injuries. Those who were seriously injured have died already."

The medics were unable to get into the refugee camp, and were taken out of the city by the IDF at 1630.

They left cases of medicine with the Israeli army, in the hope that they would be given to medics in the camp who may have survived.

See also:

16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Inside ruined Jenin
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Plea for access to devastated Jenin
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem church stalemate grinds on
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat aide chides Arab leaders
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