by Tamara Shavit
Humanitarian dilemmas are a recurring issue in the Judea and Samaria region. A terrorist fires at IDF soldiers, is shot and gets wounded. Is an IDF medic to be called to treat him? A building is about to collapse in the heart of Ramallah. Does the IDF enter? Does it jeopardize its soldiers’ lives, or does it call the International Red Cross and risk losing precious time?
To Israel, the answer to these questions is clear. According to Division Medical Officer, Lt. Col. Michael Kassirer, “The treatment of the Palestinian population is first and foremost a moral and professional obligation for every one of us.” Do we treat them? There is no question about it. But what happens in the long run and how? Where do international organizations fit in? How will an independent Palestinian medical body be established and how does coordination between bodies happen in life? These are the real questions.
In order to start answering these questions, a special conference on the topic of humanitarian medicine was held on Monday (Nov. 22), atHadassah Medical Center at Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. Commanders and medics attended in order to speak and learn, from the most senior, IDF Chief Medical Officer and the Commander of Judea and Samaria Division, to the 19-year-old paramedics serving with the battalions in the region.
“Up until September 2000, a Ramallah resident could have taken his car and driven to Ichilov Hospital [in Israel],” began Commander of Judea and Samaria Division, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon. “But from September 2000 we’ve been in a state of terror. Hundreds were killed, Jews and Palestinians alike. The battles took place in the heart of the cities, in places where enemies stood side by side with civilians, with difficult conditions and limited ability to evacuate. We could not practice medicine beyond the minimum. In those days, we were on the verge of a humanitarian crisis.”
But today, he says, the situation is different. Thanks to many efforts on both sides, stability has been restored. “The political leadership is able to make decisions not in the context of buses exploding. And now, along with direct military activity – patrolling, arrests, crossings – we are starting a new kind of routine. Medicine is an integral part of it. In today’s reality, we are obligated to do a lot more than the minimum. Our addressing of the situation should be as wide ranging as possible,” said Brig. Gen. Alon.
Thanks to the involvement of the director: “the successes are numerous”
Among the Israeli voices heard speaking, a different accent rang out every now and then. Palestinian doctors and coordinators also came to Hadassah in order to represent their side of the story. Among them was Dr. Tawfik Nasr, Director of the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem and coordinator of all hospitals in East Jerusalem. “I prepared an academic lecture,” he said apologetically with a smile, “so forgive me if there is not much politics in it.”
And indeed, we’ve come to talk about medicine. “The Palestinian security system is composed of two centers: that of the Palestinian government and that of international organizations. It is unclear whether it could function if it was based on just one. In the sector, 25 hospitals from the Health Ministry and 30 hospitals from various organizations are operated. Along with patients treated in these hospitals, there are many people who can only be treated in hospitals outside the sector, starting with those located in East Jerusalem.”
The major challenge for medical service is accessibility, he explains. As the Division Commander said, the days when one could drive freely to Ichilov are over. “We face difficulties in transferring patients, personnel and medical equipment. In too many cases moving freely is not possible. But despite these difficulties, there are also many successes.” He cites as an example of patients coming from Gaza, treated in Jerusalem sometimes over a period of three to four months. They receive a special permit from the director allowing them to stay in Israel so they won’t have to go back and forth and are housed in a special hotel in the Mount of Olives. “All these things are ultimately coordinated by the Israeli Civil Administration. Therefore I want to take this opportunity to thank you. It is particularly important for me to express my deep gratitude to Dalia, who is responsible for organizing everything.”
“In the end of the day you know that you saved lives”
Dalia’s full name is Dalia Basa, medical coordinator of the Civil Administration. In reality, she is the link to everyone who deals with medicine in the territories. In today’s lectures, her name has been mentioned repeatedly, always with respect. In an interview with IDF website, she says pleasantly, “A bond of mutual trust has been created between us. I always tell them the truth. When the Palestinians don’t do what they’re required, I don’t ignore their behavior; but with that, I will always listen. I hear them. I understand their problems.”
The work is twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There will always be medical incidents. Health is not something one can impose a curfew on or demand to freeze. “I am available around the clock. Even on Shabbat, even at 3 a.m. if needed. There is a constant contact between me and the doctors on both sides, the ambulance drivers and the patients themselves.”
And, unbelievable though it may sound, because of desire and will, it is working. Last year, 180,000 Palestinian citizens entered Israel to receive treatment. 3,000 emergency patients were transferred from Israeli to Palestinian ambulances using the “back to back” method, without warning. “Ultimately, this is a rewarding experience. There is frustration, of course there is. But on the other hand, there are people who see me on the street or in hospitals, hear my name and say ‘You saved my son’s life’. When you get home in the end of the day and examine your life, you know that you saved lives. You know you did a lot of good.”
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