Letter from the West Bank: Birth at a roadblock

 Sabreen Balout was born last Wednesday, January 24, in the taxi that was rushing her mother, her father, an aunt and her grandmother to the hospital in Ramallah. She was born as they waited for permission to cross from the Israel Defence Forces detachment posted on the road. This was the fourth group of IDF troops they had encountered on their way to the hospital. They would encounter yet another, when Sabreen was about 10 minutes old. The soldiers demanded that all the passengers in the taxi, including Sabreen who was still linked by her umbilical cord to her mother, to get out. It was a very cold and rainy day, the father, Sallah Balout, said. Amina Moussa Balout's contractions had begun in the afternoon. About two months ago, the main exit from the village of Rantis onto the main road was blocked. The only way out of the village now is over an unpaved and circuitous dirt track through the fields, which, in winter, are muddy. Travelling along this route, Amina and her family met two jeeps: an IDF jeep and the security jeep from one of the Jewish settlements in the area. The soldiers did not allow the taxi to pass. An argument ensued, with each party insistent. Then, because of the rain and the mud, even a return to the village became impossible. After about half an hour, Balout estimates, the soldiers allowed the taxi to continue on its way. It continued eastwards and came to another IDF roadblock near the Jewish settlement of Halamish. Soldiers aimed their rifles at the taxi and it stopped. Balout and the driver got out; the taxi was delayed there for about another 20 minutes, while Amina Balout was sighing and screaming. After driving a few minutes, they came upon a long line of cars waiting near the village of Um Safa. The taxi driver drove past it until he came to a military jeep. The soldiers again aimed their rifles at the car and ordered everyone out. The passengers in the taxi tried to explain that there was a woman in the vehicle who was about to give birth, but a soldier said he had to get authorisation from the officer to allow the car to pass. While the soldier was away speaking with the officer, Amina cried out, "The baby is coming, the baby is coming," and by the time he had returned, Amina had given birth to her daughter. Her mother and her sister-in-law wrapped the baby in a blanket and gave her to her mother to hold against her body. Balout estimates that they were delayed at this roadblock for about 20 minutes before the officer came along, saw the new-born infant and immediately allowed them to continue on their way. About 200 meters down the road they encountered another military Jeep; once more a soldier levelled his gun at the vehicle and demanded to know who had allowed them to drive on. The officer who had permitted their passage at the previous roadblock saw what was happening, and ran quickly to order the soldier to let them pass. This took about five minutes. They kept on in the direction of Bir Zeit, where again they came upon a long line of delayed cars. The taxi passed them, until it was stopped by four soldiers. "We opened the window and told them that we had with us a woman who had just given birth," said the father. "They ordered us to wait, walked around the car, opened the door, and looked inside and saw there was a woman with an infant. Then they insisted we had to get out." Amina got out of the car, holding the baby, and collapsed. At around 8.30 pm Amina and her daughter arrived at the hospital in Ramallah; they had left Rantis at 5.00pm. Ordinarily, the trip along this route would take about 40 or 50 minutes. The name Sabreen is derived from the three-letter Arabic root transliterated as S-B-R, meaning patience. A senior military source told Ha'aretz in response that at the time of these events there had been a shooting incident on the route to Atarot. Someone in a Palestinian vehicle had opened fire and injured someone in an Israeli vehicle, and the IDF was taking measures "in an attempt to catch the terrorists". The source said he had no knowledge of the delay caused to the taxi at the exit from Rantis and at Halamish. Despite the promises, the encirclement of most of the cities and villages of the West Bank has not been lifted. Inhabitants are forced to drive in circles. go on foot, change taxis, clamber up hilly paths and among olive groves and sometimes try to go back the way they came because of a sudden roadblock at which stretches a kilometre-long line of cars, or a new roadblock. On the ground, what remains of the Intifada is its suppression. The limitation on travel is the most conspicuously felt means, which affects every home and individual and achieves its aim: the paralysis of normal life. (This report was sent by the Living Stones Network, an organisation which supports indigenous Palestian Christians.)

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