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