Country Overview© Laura Flanders

Since 1967, Gaza and the West Bank have been under Israeli military occupation. Israel has responded to Palestinian strategies for gaining self-determination —including mass non-violent resistance, negotiations, and armed attacks—with systematic violations of Palestinian human rights.

During the second Palestinian intifada (uprising against occupation), which began in 2000, Israeli forces used live ammunition, tanks, US-made helicopter gunships and F-16 fighter jets, missiles, curfews, economic blockade, internationally outlawed high-velocity bullets, shelling of Palestinian neighborhoods and the assassination of Palestinian activists and leaders to try to suppress the intifada. Palestinian women and their families confront Israeli military violence on a daily basis, and face deepening poverty and insecurity about the future.

Meanwhile, Israeli civilians have been threatened by arbitrary assaults by Palestinian militants, including suicide bombers. International law recognizes people's right to resist military occupation (see Article 1(4) of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions). But this right does not extend to attacks against unarmed civilians. These assaults are always grave violations of basic human rights and international humanitarian law. Moreover, just as activists in the Israeli peace movement have long pointed out the brutalizing effect of military occupation on Israeli society, many progressive Palestinians view the suicide bombings as both unethical and inimical to the moral fiber of Palestinian society.

To enforce its occupation, the Israeli military polices and restricts Palestinian freedom of movement.

Closures: Israeli forces have barricaded or destroyed thousands of roads, barring Palestinians from moving freely between towns and villages. Journeys that used to take a few minutes now take several hours or days, even to reach the next village. Ambulances are regularly detained by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints. Palestinians are required to have permits to travel from one village to another. Permits are often denied without explanation. Hundreds of thousands of people cannot reach their jobs, schools, hospitals, or places of worship.

The Apartheid Wall: One significant impediment to freedom of movement is Israel's "security fence," which peace activists call the "Apartheid Wall." The wall is a huge (eight meter high), heavily militarized, electrified barrier cutting deep into the West Bank. According to Israeli human rights organizations, over 200,000 Palestinians (roughly 10 percent of the population) are trapped between the Wall and Israel's 1967 border.  Many are unable to access basic services such as healthcare.

A Matrix of Control: Israel controls all travel between the West Bank and Gaza, and the territories themselves have been divided into dozens of isolated cantons, separated by Israeli-controlled areas. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories have been expanded into large blocs and the number of Israeli settlers has more than doubled since 1993. A massive road network (funded by US taxes) has been built exclusively for settlers—all in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement, coupled with intermittent military attacks, pose a serious threat to the rights and well-being of Palestinian women and their families, with particular consequences to women's reproductive health.


Effects on Women's Reproductive Health

  • Within the first four years of the second intifada, 61 Palestinian women were forced to give birth at Israeli military checkpoints, resulting in the deaths of 20 women and 36 infants.
  • There has been almost a fivefold increase in the number of pregnant women who received no prenatal care due to movement restrictions on women and healthcare providers.
  • There has also been a dramatic increase in births that take place in unsafe conditions or without a skilled health worker, increasing in the danger to women during pregnancy and childbirth, and creating enormous psychological strain for women.