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Transforming the common image – Israeli and Palestinian health care and cooperation
by Jeanine Hirschhorn

The pictures of Israel commonly shown by the media show attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers, stone-throwing youths and Israeli military incursions into West Bank and Gaza towns. Other pictures exist.

They are rarely, if ever, shown on television or printed in newspapers – pictures that show a story of peaceful coexistence and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians are, apparently, not considered newsworthy. A photojournalist wishing to take such pictures might begin with the ongoing peaceful cooperative efforts between Israeli and Palestinian professionals to improve health awareness and care within the Palestinian community.

Occupational therapist Naomi Segev is one of many Israelis who use their skills proactively to promote understanding and coexistence. Reared and educated in England, Ms Segev studied occupational therapy at Cardiff’s Welsh School of Occupational Therapy. In addition to travelling all over Israel to provide her extensive OT expertise to her Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druse clients, Ms Segev has participated in several projects in which Israeli health professionals travel to the West Bank to educate and train their Palestinian colleagues.

One such project, the Aid Equipment Lending Centre in Ramallah, was a joint project for the Jewish joint distribution committee’s (JJDC) special Middle East programme and the union of Palestinian medical relief committees. The JJDC recruited Israeli volunteers like Ms Segev for the project. Several Jewish philanthropic foundations and Israel’s National Insurance Institute were among the project’s funders.

Ms Segev taught the Ramallah centre workers how to use the equipment that would be lent and how to properly perform assessments, to ensure clients received appropriate equipment and the training to use it. She also attended orientation sessions in Ramallah for the child development programme, another cooperative effort between Israeli and Palestinian health workers.

Volunteer Israeli health workers instructed health workers from several Palestinian villages in assessing, identifying and solving problems in child development. Israeli health workers subsequently visited Palestinian health workers in their villages to provide additional in-service training.

‘The Palestinian doctor I spoke with very hesitantly told me that there was a lack of money for health education and other health requirements within his community,’ Ms Segev says. ‘That the international funds, which should have been provided by the Palestinian Authority for public health care were instead being diverted. That funding to establish and sustain the Palestinian public health infrastructure had largely come from international donor countries and philanthropic foundations, bypassing the black hole of the Palestinian Authority’s coffers, and remitted directly to various Palestinian grassroots community projects and nongovernment health organisations.’

As a result of ongoing violence and terrorism, cooperative, on-site projects, which not only contribute to enhancing the health and welfare of the Palestinian community but also foster intercommunal cooperation and sensitivity, have been greatly curtailed or have ceased due to the participants fearing for their lives.

A few Israeli health professionals continue to attend cooperative, on-site projects, such as the joint conference on diabetes held in August 2004 in the Palestinian city of Tulkarem. The conference was organised by Physicians for Human Rights – Israel as part of its specialist clinic project and hosted by the Palestinian Medical Association. The conference was attended by approximately 120 Palestinian physicians and included lectures and speeches by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite the hostilities, cooperative efforts between Palestinian and Israeli health professionals continue unabated in Israel. Israeli hospitals have a long history of providing humanitarian outreach to Palestinians, especially children. Thousands of Palestinians have received free diagnosis and treatment, including life-saving surgery at several Israeli hospitals, among them the world-renowned Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

Palestinian doctors often refer their urgent cases for treatment in Israeli hospitals because their patients are unable to obtain adequate medical care from Palestinian Authority health services. These are plagued by the marginalisation of health organisations not affiliated with PA rule, political cronyism and lack of funding due to PA financial corruption, contributing to a dearth of medical knowledge and equipment, the absence of a coherent health care strategy, and inefficiency in health care delivery.

Saving Children, an organisation run by Israel’s Peres Peace Centre, provides free medical care to Palestinian children from the West Bank and Gaza who have serious medical conditions that formerly went untreated due to lack of funds or access to proper medical care from Palestinian Authority health services.

Four Israeli hospitals and several dozen Palestinian paediatricians, who provide screening and hospital referral, participate in the programme. Prof Anwar Dudin, a Palestinian project coordinator and paediatrician at Bethlehem’s al-Yamama Hospital, describes the project as ‘…a programme of hope – a collaboration of Palestinian and Israeli doctors’.

Ms Segev feels that the lack of daily contact, ongoing violence and terrorism fuel ignorance, misunderstanding and mistrust between the Israeli and Palestinian communities. ‘After the extensive contact I’ve had with their community, I think the vast majority of Palestinians would rather just get on with their daily lives, just like the vast majority of Israelis would. They would much rather leave politics to the politicians… or do away with politicians altogether.’ She believes that cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is the key to peace in the region. ‘If there was constant, ongoing cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian communities, everyone would win.’

source: PublicHealthNews.com

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