It's not only me (on my Dutch blog), Ken Silverstein, or the blog Mondoweis who were struck by the cynical way in which Israel is going out of its way with providing rescue operations and medical and other services to Haiti, while around the corner the Palestinians in Gaza, beause of the Israeli blockade are at the brink of starvation, cannot rebuild the damage of the 'Cast Lead' attack of one year ago and lack medical services.
Of course Haiti at this moment is much worse off than Gaza and needs all the help it gan get. But there are some serious doubts about how effective the Israeli help to Haiti really is (see Silverstein's blog) And the way Israel is using this opportunity to gain as much public relations profit from it is tasteless, to say the least. While Gaza is lacking elementary equipment, training facilities and whatever is needed to perform complicated thorax and heart surgery, or cancer treatments, Israel sends a complete mobile hospital, including maternity clinic, two state of the art operation rooms and more, to Port au Prince - 'Port au Hasbara' in Mondoweiss's words. And at the same time that there - applauded by the Israeli media en big American networks - a first baby is born (which after suggestions by the medics is called Israel - the poor thing), people in nearby Gaza are dying because they don't get a travel permit to get the care they need outside the hermetically closed Strip.
And as if it had to be that way, coinciding with Israels operation in Haiti, the World Health Organization issued a report about the health situation in Gaza. It says:
The closure of Gaza since mid-2007 and the last Israeli military strike between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 have led to on-going deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health.
Many specialized treatments, for example for complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer, are not available in Gaza and patients are therefore referred for treatment to hospitals outside Gaza. But many patients have had their applications for exit permits denied or delayed by the Israeli Authorities and have missed their appointments. Some have died while waiting for referral.
1103 applications for permits for patients to cross Erez were submitted to the Israeli Authorities in December 2009. 21% had their applications denied or delayed as a result of which they missed their hospital appointments and had to restart the referral process.
Two patients died recently while awaiting referral - one in November and one in December. 27 patients have died while awaiting referral since the beginning of the year.
DEATH OF FIDAA TALAL HIJJY
Fidaa Talal Hijjy, 19 years old, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in 2007, and was treated at Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Her health deteriorated and she was told she needed a bone marrow transplant. This procedure is not available in Gaza. Her doctors referred her to Tel HaShomer Hospital in Israel on 20 August 2009 and she obtained a hospital appointment for 23 September 2009 for a transplant.
The District Liaison Office submitted an application for Fidaa to cross Erez on the date of her appointment but the Israeli Authorities did not respond to her application and she lost her appointment with Tel HaShomer Hospital. She secured a new appointment for 20 October 2009 and a new application was submitted to cross Erez. She had no response from the Israeli Authorities. Her health condition deteriorated further. She was given a new appointment at Shneider Hospital in Israel for 9 November 2009 and submitted an urgent application to cross Erez. No response was received.
Fidaa died on 11 November 2009. The Israeli Authorities approved her request on 12 November 2009, three days after her hospital appointment and one day after her death.
Supplies of drugs and disposables have generally been allowed into Gaza. However, there are often shortages on the ground mainly because of shortfalls in deliveries.Delays of up to 2-3 months occur on the importation of certain types of medical equipment, such as x-ray machines and electronic devices. Clinical staff frequently lack the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts or out of date.
- Health professionals in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world. Since 2000, very few doctors, nurses or technicians have been able to leave the Strip for training eg to update their clinical skills or to learn about new medical technology. This is severely undermining their ability to provide quality health care. An effective health care system cannot be sustained in isolation from the international community.
ECONOMY IN COLLAPSE
Rising unemployment (41.5 percent of Gaza's workforce in the first quarter of 20092) and poverty (in May 2008, 70 percent of the families were living on an income of less than one dollar a day per person3) is likely to have long term adverse effects on the physical and mental health of the population.
WATER: OVER-EXTRACTION, SALINITY AND NITRATE LEVELS
The increasing salinity and high levels of nitrates in water supplies from the over-extraction of the ground water and the intrusion of salt water is a major concern for the safety of drinking water, particularly for children they are most vulnerable to high nitrate levels4. Salinity levels in water wells in most parts of the Gaza Strip are above the 250 mg/liter limit established by WHO, and nitrate concentrations exceed WHO guidelines of 50 mg/liter (up to 331 mg/l).
OPERATION "CAST LEAD": IMPACT ON FACILITIES AND STAFF
Maybe the right thing to do here is to quote Juan Cole's blog Informed Comment. Cole argues that the blockade of Gaza is meant to weaken Hamas, but
- 16 health workers killed and 25 injured on duty
- Damaged health services infrastructure:
- 15 of 27 Gaza's hospitals
- 43 of its 110 Primary Health Care services
- 29 of its 148 ambulances
- The lack of building materials is affecting essential health facilities: the new surgical wing in Gaza�fs main Shifa hospital has remained unfinished since 2006. Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during operation 'Cast Lead', have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza.
Collectively punishing 1.5 million Gazans in order to weaken Hamas is in any case strictly illegal in international law and is a war crime. According to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949:
'Articl 33. No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.Not only is today's ongoing blockade a war crime, but it follows on and continues destructive policies of the Israeli military during the Gaza War, as the Goldstone Report for the United Nations concluded.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.'