Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Debate on Health Care for Palestinians

Today I came across a news article in the Jerusalem Post about a conference in England about health care for Palestinians under occupation of Israel. It was titled "Oxford U. blames Israel for poor Palestinian healthcare". In this article, several issues came up, that may not have been well known before, and perhaps merit some attention.

First, a little background. Since 1967, Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories. The living conditions of Palestinians have been a concern to many people around the world. Even those who are not Palestinian themselves have this feeling, fuelled by news reports from some sources. Is there any truth these allegations that Palestinians receive poor health care? This article in the Jerusalem Post could shed some light on the matter.

Just to clarify one point, and this comment was also made on this website, it was not actually Oxford University that hosted the conference, it was the "Society for Medicine".

So on with the facts. The conference, "Healthcare Under Siege", described itself this way
“In this conference, the speakers will draw on their personal experiences in the occupied Palestinian territories to expose the devastating effect of crippling economic blockades and military attacks on civilian health and access to medical care in Gaza,”
You can already tell there is going to be Israeli-bashing in this conference, from the words "devastating effect" "crippling blockades" "military attacks on civilian". And the Jerusalem Post also points out that George Galloway will be attending, a British politician who is famous for bringing relief supplies to Palestinians, and is very outspoken in his criticism of Israel and the USA.

But because the article is actually in a Jewish newspaper, naturally there are also some nice things to be said about the medical care Palestinians receive from Israel. Although I do not think these statements were made at this conference. I will try to summarize them here anyway.

Lord Leslie Turnberg, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, and has visited two hospitals in Israel, made these comments for the Jerusalem Post

  • “At Safra Children’s Hospital [Tel Hashomer] at any one time, there are 30-40 children from Gaza with their families receiving specialist care such as cardiac surgery or bone marrow transplantation"
  • "More than half of [Safra Children's Hospital] cardiac surgery patients are from Gaza."
  • "At the Schneider Children’s Hospital [in Petah Tikva] we saw many Palestinian children being cared for"
  • "A pediatrician from Gaza spent 18 months training in pediatric oncology" [At Schneider]
  • "There are many such interactions, but they remain largely unpublished, in part at least because of the fear of Hamas,”

Also quoted in this article, is David Katz, professor of Immunology at University College London, speaking about the "Health Care Under Siege" conference. Although he was not quoted about the actual health care of Palestinians, he was quoted about the credibility of the panel.

“Unfortunately, this panel does not inspire confidence and suggests a propaganda publicity stunt. Surely an eminent epidemiologist like Sir Iain should be circumspect about associating with George Galloway, or indeed with Dr. Horton, whose poor track record of judgment on the MMR [Measles, mumps and rubella] vaccine saga speaks for itself.”

Finally, Stuart Stanton, professor emeritus at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London, and chairman of Hadassah UK (Hadassah I think is an Israeli hospital.) Was quoted as saying

  • "Israeli hospitals don’t discriminate."
  • Hadassah, and other hospitals in Israel, brings first-class medical attention to the Palestinian population,”
  • Hadassah in Jerusalem saved the lives of Palestinian suicide bombers injured while killing hundreds of Israelis." (I paraphrased this a bit, just left out a little bit of rhetoric, that's all. You can check the original article if you don't believe me.)
  • "we save lives of Palestinian babies with severe heart defects."
  • "we conduct dozens of collaborative research and clinical projects with Palestinian physicians in a variety of medical and health areas.”

How can we interpret these pro-Israeli comments? Well for one thing, we seem to be missing all the anti Israeli facts, if there were any presented at this conference. Such as what is the relative survival rate for infants, and all the other yardsticks by which we usually measure health care. Not being there myself, I cannot even know if these Palestinians in Israeli hospitals were getting their health care for free or if they were paying for it. I know that in Canada, we make Americans pay.

It may be true that Israeli Hospitals don't discriminate, but it is also true that Palestinians get discriminated against at checkpoints on the way to the hospitals. I would like to know if an Israeli checkpoint would ever let a Palestinian ambulance through in an emergency.

Hadassah hospital is supposed to have saved the life of a suicide bomber who killed hundreds of Israelis.  Obviously, if a suicide bomber is still alive, the Israelis are going to try to save his life for security reasons, so that they can interrogate him, and get valuable information to prevent it from happening again.  This is not really a humanitarian issue, and says nothing about the general health care of Palestinians.  It's more of a reminder that any Palestinian may also be a suicide bomber.

I would have to say, that in the balance I found this article quite unconvincing in presenting a case for Palestinians getting "first class medical attention", although I can well imagine that if a Palestinian could get into a Jewish hospital, they would be taken care of as human beings, and not made to suffer. Just like me in an American hospital.

Picture: Palestinian Ambulance being checked out by Israeli soldiers. Problem? There may be a bomb on board, which sadly is a possibility with all Palestinian ambulances. One of the many actual problems of health care for Palestinians.


  1. "it was not actually Oxford University that hosted the conference, it was the "Society for Medicine"."

    Yes, the Oxford University Society for Medicine you snide little man.

    I didn't bother reading the rest of your shite as it's clear from that opening line that you're just a fucking apologist for the inhumane and murderous scum in the Israeli government.

  2. I know this topic has extremists on both sides frothing at the mouth, but to take this tone without reading what I wrote has got to be embarrassing to other Palestinian supporters (if that is what you are). I was almost tempted to delete it for that reason, but so far I have never deleted any comment from my blog unless it was promoting Chinese Porn sites. However, if after reading my blog you would like me to delete your comment, I can do that for you. I know what it's like to get out of bed on the wrong side.

  3. I wish I could express how encouraging I find rational discussion of the complex situation in Palestine.

    Deep, insightful, perceptive comments such as, 'you're just a fucking apologist for the inhumane and murderous scum ...' are especially helpful in our coming to an objective appreciation of the situation.

    Personally, I'm inclined to agree with the countless U.N. resolutions on the issue of the Israeli occupation and that a 'two-state' solution is the most likely to have any chance of success.

    However, I find it hard to credit that calling the Israeli government (or balanced bloggers, for that matter) names will further the Palestinian cause.

  4. I think the title of the JP article now reads "Oxford students blame Israel for bad Palestinian healthcare"

    I'm not sure how I read "Oxford University" before, maybe the title was changed as the University denied making any statements about Palestinian health care.