the common image – Israeli and Palestinian health care and
by Jeanine Hirschhorn
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
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
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.’