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A Palestinian doctor and the struggle against Israeli occupation

Posted by lenolea on January 4, 2009

Since 1948, Palestine has been under Israeli occupation. Today, half of the Palestinian people are refugees abroad while one-third of the population has become refugees in their own land. At least 1.4 million Palestinians are living in areas confiscated by Israel.

Before 1948, 93.4 percent of those who live in Palestine are Palestinians and 6.6 percent are Jewish. By 1967, Israel occupied 79 percent of the land. Until now, 88 percent of Palestine has apartheid wall. The length of the wall is approximately 700 kms. According to a study by the United Nations, the wall has caused damage to 680,000 Palestinians, especially those in the West Bank.

This is the backdrop by which the Health Work Committee (HWC) in Palestine provides services to its people. As Dr. Ahmad Maslamani, director of the HWC, puts it, “Occupation affects the health conditions of our people.”

The effects of the separation wall have been devastating to the health of Palestinians. The wall deprives half a million citizens from being served by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Palestinian NGOs, and health programs such as reproductive health, pediatric care, specialized care, and preventative health care.

The women, children and elderly suffer the most. The wall deprives 19,260 senior Palestinians of health, social, and medical care. At least 10,5642 children under five are deprived of vaccination and health care and 23, 400 pregnant women deprived of antenatal and postnatal health care.

Checkpoints set up by the Israeli army caused the death of newborns and the sick. At least 44 of the newborns delivered at checkpoints subsequently died and 119 ill individuals died at checkpoints after being refused passage.

Forty percent of Palestinian families faced difficulties in obtaining health care for their children because of Israeli closures. Forty-four percent of them cannot get to health center because of curfews.

Many times, the Israeli forces prevent the injured from reaching hospitals and medical centers and prevent medical staff from reaching place of work. There were also delays in the provision of medicines. Worse, medical personnel are not exempted from Israeli attacks.

The Ministry of Health has been experiencing dwindling budget. From $135 million in 2004, it was reduced to $72 million in 2006. Sixty-percent of the MOH budget is allocated to the salaries of doctors and hospital workers. Only 19 percent is given to medications, medical supplies and laboratory examinations. There is a severe shortage in medicines.

There are only 23 government hospitals. Fifty-four hospitals are run by non-government organizations (NGOs) and private entities.

The HWC is one of the NGOs providing health services to the Palestinians. The HWC has a network of hospitals, health centers and health personnel. There are 281 volunteer doctors and advocates working for the HWC.

Dr. Maslamani said that most of their activities are held in remote areas. “We have mobile clinics who give services free of charge, even the medication.”

The HWC has two committees, one in Gaza and another in West Bank. Services include primary health care for women and children and emergency medical services. The HWC also has a community development department.

Dr. Maslamani’s advocacy earned for him the ire of the Israeli government. He was arrested eight times since 1984. He related, “I saw the pain of the children in prison. One-third of the prisoners were children and youth under 18 years old. At least 16 percent are women.”

Dr. Maslamani said, “They [Israeli forces] arrest people who fight the occupation of Israel.”

The Palestinian doctor related that several resolutions have been passed by the UN and its Security Council favoring the Palestinian’s struggle for liberation. He said, however, that not one has been implemented.

Asked why, Dr. Maslamani said, “Because the Israeli government is above human rights and has no respect for international humanitarian law…And the US imperialism is its strongest ally.”

Dr. Maslamani is not only fighting for the right to health of the people of Palestine. Given the complex situation, it is quite inevitable what Dr. Maslamani said, “We fight for human rights… Like the Filipinos and other peoples, we love our life and we love our children.”

Dr. Ahmad Maslamani died of heart attack on January 7, 2008. He was 49. I wrote this article for the Council for Health and Development’s publication sometime in January 2007. We were fortunate to have met and interviewed Dr. Maslamani, the Palestinian people’s doctor and defender. Stop the US-backed Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people!

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