Prague, 31 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Rula Ashtiya was forced to give birth on the ground, on a dirt road near a checkpoint after Israeli soldiers refused her passage. Her newborn baby died in her arms minutes later.
She is not alone. In the past 4 1/2 years, Amnesty International has recorded more than 50 cases of women forced to give birth at Israeli checkpoints. Scores of other women have been unable to reach medical facilities for pre- or postnatal care because of Israeli restrictions.
Amnesty International says Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are suffering violence from both sides in the conflict. The report notes that Palestinian women suffer violence and intimidation at the hands of Israeli forces. It says some Palestinian women have been arrested, threatened, and ill treated to pressure their husbands to surrender or sign confessions.
Donatella Rovera, an Amnesty International researcher on Israel and the occupied territories, spoke to RFE/RL from Jerusalem. She said many Palestinian women suffer from high levels of depression, anxiety, and other health problems.
"Within the occupied Palestinian territory, the level of violence has increased so much that people do not feel safe anywhere. People -- men, women, children -- have been killed not just in the streets but in their home; children have been killed at their desks in the classroom," Rovera said. "So obviously women worry for themselves, they worry for the members of their family, [and] for their children."
"Within the occupied Palestinian territory, the level of violence has increased so much that people do not feel safe anywhere. People -- men, women, children -- have been killed not just in the streets but in their home; children have been killed at their desks in the classroom." -- Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International
The Israeli occupation has led to unemployment and poverty among Palestinians. At the same time, violence and discrimination against women has increased within Palestinian society.
"In what is a classic pattern, one sees men taking out on their female relatives their frustration, their anger," Rovera said. "And so we've seen the level of domestic violence increase, as well."
Some Palestinian women's groups estimate that the level of domestic violence has increased by 150 percent since 1999.
Amnesty International says pressure on women to conform with certain interpretations of religious and traditional norms have also increased. And those who challenge such norms are at risk of becoming victims of the so-called honor killings.
At the same time, Israeli restrictions and inadequate protection mechanism make it difficult for women and girls who face violence to find safety.
Amnesty International also says in its report that widows whose husbands have been killed in the conflict are often under pressure to marry one of their late husband's brothers.
The report, titled "Conflict, Occupation and Patriarchy: Women Carry the Burden," is part of an Amnesty International campaign to end violence against women. It includes a number of recommendations to Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
Rovera, who authored the report, says Amnesty International is calling on Israel to end restrictions on movement that have blocked women's access to health care and education. She says the demolition of Palestinian houses should also be stopped.
"The first recommendations is that the Israeli authorities, who are the main authority responsible for the well-being of the civilian population in the occupied territories, must put an end to the kind of violations that they've committed and that have had such a devastating impact on women," she said. "The Palestinian authorities, which are reasserting their authority, must set up structures and mechanisms to help women in distress. They must take more long-term measures, such as changing laws which discriminate against women."
She added that the international community should also put pressure on Israel and the Palestinian authorities to eradicate violence against women.