by Eileen Fleming
[Occupied West Bank, July 27, 2007] On Wednesday July 25th, the most numinous encounters occurred, because of being in the right place at the right time...
After Palestinian American Professor and justice and peace activist, Mazin Qumsiyeh spoke in Beit Sahour-a suburb of Bethlehem-at Sabeel's http://www.sabeel.org/ 2nd International Conference: 40 Years in the Wilderness…40 Years of Occupation…I was led to my following interviews.
On July 14, 2007, I arrived in Israel Palestine to report on some of the Sabeel Conference and investigate about the lives of children in the Holy Land, for the non-profit PCWF/Palestinian Children's Welfare Fund, http://www.pcwf.org/
After Mazin addressed over 40 international youth as to the true facts on the ground in Israel Palestine, I spoke with Omar, one of the coordinators of the Sabeel event seeking a connection to any pediatrician in the West Bank who would speak with me, as my PCWF contact person had failed to coordinate any interviews for me.
Omar was radiant as he informed me, "Oh, you are in luck! Just yesterday Dr. M. graduated with his medical degree and he is here today!"
After introductions were made Dr. M and I sat in the Bethlehem Peace Center and he told me, "This is my first Sabeel conference, I have been busy attending Al Quds University in Abu Dis. Without checkpoints I could get there in twenty minutes, four and five years ago, it would take four hours, and sometimes I was not even allowed through the checkpoint. Nowadays, I wait 10-30 minutes to get through.
Dr. M trained in public and private hospitals in Ramallah, Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablus and Bethlehem and will soon begin another internship specializing in neonatal care. "They will pay me about $100.00 a month…I have been in school for six years.
"One horrible case was a baby from Jericho who was referred to a hospital in Jerusalem because their local hospital could not admit them due to the strike, so he needed to get to Jerusalem for treatment, but the permission did not arrive for three days and the babies elevated bilirubin caused permanent brain damage. Because of the USA and EU sanctions for the election of Hamas, no salaries were paid and that led to the strikes in the hospitals. Full monthly salaries have just been paid for the first time since the 2006 elections. Only the emergency rooms were always open and only for severe emergencies with minimal admissions to the hospitals.
"In Jerusalem there is available advanced care for more complicated cases then we can treat in the West Bank. But, the permission for the patient to go there usually takes three days to a week. Most common for the children is upper respiratory infections secondary to the poor sanitation, crowded conditions and lots of people smoke inside the homes. It's illegal to smoke in the hospital for visitors, but they still do. I have seen many cases of neonatal sepsis and respiratory tract infections; and lower respiratory tract infections are the more serious. Smoking is an important risk factor for reactive airway disease and asthma. Other common problems in children in the West Bank are iron deficiency anemia, dehydration and malnutrition.
"Full term infants are usually in the normal range of weight and length, but many premature infants are born with many problems that become chronic. In the emergency rooms there is always a pediatric resident available as pediatric cases are significantly higher than any other age group."
I asked Dr. M if he could connect me with any other physicians to tell me more, and as is typical of Palestinian hospitality and graciousness towards the stranger, he immediately made a phone call that led me to my next interview.
In a private West Bank pediatric hospital, Dr. Rafat-Allawi, of Bethlehem and four General Practice residents spoke to me for the forty-five minutes that was their break time in a 116 hour week that required them to be on call at forty hour stretches. The residents were paid $1, 400.00 a month, twice what physicians are paid in the public government hospitals.
Dr. Zafer Al-Qaisi, is from Jerusalem, Dr. Mohammad Abu Yousef and Dr. Sufyan Amro are both from Hebron and the lone female, Dr. Ninn Hafiri is from Beit Jala.
Dr. Yousef: "Three days ago, I had a critical cardiac patient that required transport to Israeli hospital, as we do not have the facilities or specialists here to treat critical cases. I had to apply for a permit; permission to travel with the child in the ambulance to Jerusalem, but was refused as the Israelis claimed I was a security risk; a threat to the state of Israel."
Dr. Amro: "Yes, a threat with his stethoscope! I had a patient that was one week old with severe heart disease and needed to go to Jerusalem for emergency care. The mother, a paramedic and I traveled with the baby in the ambulance. At the checkpoint, the Israeli soldier; a female laughed and told the mother in broken Arabic, 'You cannot pass through until you admit you are a prostitute.' The mother did not understand what she was saying and why the soldiers were laughing and joking as her baby was blue, but she said what the soldier demanded and we finally were let through. I do not know what happened with that baby and this harassment at the checkpoints is not unusual. At the checkpoints it is usual to wait 3-4 hours and because Palestinian ambulances are not allowed through, we must hire Israeli ambulances for transport. They charge 1,800 shekels [ 450.00 USA dollars] and the parents cannot even make that much money in a month of work."
Dr. Allawi: "The other alternative from going to Jerusalem [a few miles away] is to take the children to Jordan for care, but that trip can take two days. Before the intifada, we were able to go to Jerusalem, but not since. Yesterday, I had a child in renal failure and there is no pediatric dialysis available in the West Bank. It took over twelve hours to locate a hospital in Israel to take him, but it was too late and he is dead."
Dr. Amro: "There are no specialists in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority pays 80 million a year to Jordan and [Israeli] Hadassah hospitals for medical care. They could build hospitals in the West Bank and train specialists here!"
I asked did any of them have any faith in Tony Blair and the Quartet's initiative to build Palestinian infrastructures, especially in the medical field. They all laughed and Dr. Allawi added, "We have a very weak Health Ministry and there is no state authority. In 1994, when the PA started, its aim was that Palestine would assume authority and responsibility for ourselves and the Israelis present a false front."
When I commented that under International Law the occupiers are responsible for the needs and requirements of the occupied, the doctors laughed again, for it is the law of the jungle that rules the Holy Land.
Dr. Amro: "It's a revolving door in the West Bank. We treat these babies as best we can, the parents don't have the money to pay for the medicine and milk and the babies return to the hospital every ten days."
Dr. Al-Qaisi: "We see lots of children with chronic metabolic disorders and there is no money to treat them properly. They should be on special milk for at least six months; we send them home with one bottle and a week's worth of milk costs 230 shekels that the parents do not have, so they eat potatoes and tomatoes and come back here."
The doctors see over one hundred children a day and admit a quarter of them. In the public hospitals in places like Hebron, the physicians will see five-hundred a day and admit a fourth of them also.
Dr. Al-Qaisi: "When we [resident doctors] graduate, we can't find work in the West Bank; you graduate as a GP and you stay that way because there are no facilities to train in specialties."
Dr. Amro: "The US Aid, the Fulbright Society; they all give food, drugs and money, but don't support further education."
Dr. Hafiri: "We need specialists here; this is a major disaster not having any in the West Bank."
Dr. Amro: "The politicians live in a bubble. We live in the third world, and this is a heaven hospital, the government hospitals in the West Bank are hell! If we need blood for a child, we have to get it from Jerusalem and it takes five hours! So, we are supposed to predict six hours ahead, which child will require blood [stat: immediately].
Dr. Allawi: "There is no plan, no aim to really change this situation. The world leaders are not serious about changing the situation and really building foundations. Some of us get the opportunity to go to the US and get specialized training, but they don't come back here."
But, Dr. Al-Qaisi is the exception to that rule. After the meeting, he offered me a ride back to Jerusalem in his 'classic' 18 year old Peugeot. He had come in on his day off and was on his way home after stopping at his brother's store to pick up some eggs. When he pulled back out into the congested streets, he rear ended a taxi van and dented it slightly. After a few words with the owner of the cab and apology, we were on our way; no insurance info was exchanged and no cop was called; for in Palestine, the people give each other a break.
Dr. Al-Qaisi pulled out his USA citizenship and told me, "In 2004, I won a green card lottery. The USA grants 55,000 green cards a year and if you pass the security checks and all the other criteria, you can get American citizenship. I went to Toledo, Ohio for a while, but I came back home, because my family is the most important thing to me. I don't care about making a lot of money, I want to be with my family."
July 29, 2007 © Copyright Eileen Fleming, Reporter and Editor http://www.wearewideawake.org/ AuthorKeep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory, Producer "30 Minutes With Vanunu" Permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media if this credit is attached and the title remains unchanged. "Only in Solidarity do "we have it in our power to begin the world again." -Tom Paine