Few Palestinians to Get Gas Masks Despite Order from the High Court

The High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the Defense Ministry to issue gas masks immediately to Palestinians in the administered territories after an angry jurist denounced their distribution to Jewish settlers only as “a scandal.”

The issue was brought to the court by a resident of Bethlehem, who applied for a showcause order against the Defense Ministry and the army. Her counsel argued that under international law, Israel is bound to offer the same protection to the occupied population as to its own citizens.

Israel has been threatened with chemical attack by Iraq if a Persian Gulf war breaks out. But the authorities have maintained that the danger in the territories is minimal.

The government acknowledged that after issuing masks to virtually everyone in Israel, there were only 170,000 available for the 1.4 million residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, of whom about 100,000 are settlers.

Justice Aharon Barak said in that case, Palestinians in the areas of greatest risk — the Jerusalem area and those with proximity to Israel proper — should have priority.

He angrily rejected the contention of government lawyers that masks should be withheld from Palestinians because rioters would use them for protection against tear gas.

Although they maintained there was little risk, the defense authorities began distributing gas masks to Jewish settlers this week. They admitted they succumbed to intense pressure from the settlers and their powerful political lobby.

Barak said that amounted to discrimination.

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