Humanitarian Aid for Palestinians
A. Medical Aid in Nablus
- a return visit
(The fourth medical day, May 18, 2002
Another sunny day in Nablus….
The humanitarian aid group was determined to go back to Nablus. The scenes
of the ruins, and the despair did not leave the mind. It was also hard to see
the many people who were left outside the clinic, not able to get treatment.
So on Saturday morning a group of three doctors, one nurse, a pharmacist and
two helpers travelled to Nablus. This time we were helped by MK Yael Dayan and
the permits to enter Area A (i.e. cities under Palestinian authority) were
arranged beforehand. But on Saturday morning the permits were cancelled and
the pressure started to rise. People were waiting in Nablus, the medicines
were in the car but, remembering the army shootings on our last visit, we
didn't want to attempt the same dangerous route. But the morning drama was
short this time and, after an hour of telephone calls, the permits were
re-issued and the delegation was on its way.
At the checkpoint: The Awartta checkpoint is a small border crossing
into Nablus. Many Palestinian villagers were standing there trying to gain
entry to Nablus, most of them sick, old, wounded, or mothers with small
babies. These people live in remote villages around the city. They look to the
city as their main provider of medical, commercial, higher educational and
municipal needs and functions. Yet they are all more or less banned from
entering, with only very few being allowed through the checkpoint. For a
moment the doctors thought of staying on the road and treating people there,
in the sun, in front of the soldiers. It is not a bad idea, but people were
waiting in the city; maybe next time…
The soldiers did respect our permits. This is no small surprise, but as the
delegation passed one soldier said: "You don’t look like doctors," and another
added: "watch out for yourselves - there are animals in there!" A moment
later he added: "You deserve respect for what you are doing."
The delegation was allowed in with their cars- these were the only
yellow-licensed (Israeli) vehicles on the road so soon enough the Palestinian
police stopped them to check - no doubt our project confuses many people.
In Nablus: The medical day was hosted by the Anglican hospital. The
hospital director received the delegation and everything was ready and
prepared. A hundred and fifty people came; they were all registered
beforehand, (we are learning from one project to the next). Some of the
chronically ill required very expensive medicines that we are unable to
provide. These included a patient with multiple sclerosis (MS), and another
with cancer. Their plight especially affected the doctors, and we will provide some details about these, in the hope that someone can help.
The Casba: Nablus has a beautiful old city, or maybe we should say
this in the past tense. Parts of the old city were destroyed, with whole
houses or house fronts shaved off by bulldozers to allow tanks to drive though
the narrow allies. With no alternative, people continue to live in ruined
houses that are in danger of collapse. The stories we heard were horrible: a
family of nine died when their house was toppled onto them. Their bodies were
buried under the rubble for one week. Another family remained trapped under
ruins for ten days with only a carton of milk. A third family, originally
from Haifa, became refugees for a second time. They survived the demolition of their home by hiding in the
shower for a day. When they finally got out and were given refuge in a school
building, they discovered that they had lost not only their home but two
family members. These are the scars of this war. The doctors reported that
many of the symptoms they treated could be related to stress, depression and
personal devastation - no medicine can heal these pains.
The smile: A young magician from Spain came with the group from
NSWAS. He stayed in Nablus planning to entertain children. While the medical
delegation worked, he did his magic. The medical group reported that at times
he had the cures that even they could not provide.
There was a change in atmosphere from two weeks ago: many people are
working in the city streets, cleaning up the ruins, painting, fixing up what
can be fixed. There is a great spirit of cooperation among the volunteers - as
one of the Nablusites said: "all of a sudden 200,000 residents feel like we
know each other".
Future plans: in the middle of this week we will send the medicines
that are needed for the patients we saw, and we will send also ten first aid
kits for paramedics who were trained by the Anglican hospital during the
attacks, so that each will have a bag at home in case of emergency.
NSWAS says thank you: On Friday evening we invited all the people
who volunteered in the HAP project for a meeting and social evening. In the
meeting we heard from the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and a medical supplies
agent. There was important input in the meeting. We will list a few of the
thoughts and recommendations:
It is important to learn the needs of the
community before going there for a medical treatment day.
We want to go to remote places like small
villages, which are closed by the army.
It is important to find more volunteers.
It is important to return to the same
place after a few weeks to see the patients again.
The vaccination program for babies and
small children was stopped in many areas of the PA and the vaccinations
themselves were ruined because there was no electricity, there is a need to
help in the vaccinations.
After the meeting we all gathered for a social evening. The residents of
NSWAS came to meet the medical volunteers who were welcomed as part of the
community. It was a warm and friendly evening; hopefully it gave everyone the
strength and support they need to continue the project.
- Thanks to Michal Zak for this report