Signing a petition demanding justice for the Palestinian people as a 13-year-old schoolgirl marked the start of what has become my lifetime commitment to their cause. From reading about the atrocities of Sabra and Shatila through to witnessing the aftermath of the Jenin Massacre and climbing on board a boat to break the Siege of Gaza, I thought that little more could have such an emotional impact on me as I joined countless others trying to raise awareness of the incredible injustices carried out by the state of Israel against the Palestinians.
It seems that there are no depths to which Israel will not plumb in its bid to destroy, degrade and brutalise the indigenous people of Palestinian, and all with the complicity of some of its neighbours and most European governments, plus the unconditional support of the powers that control Capitol Hill. Heroic former US President Jimmy Carter was right when he called Israel the “Apartheid” state; if the Palestinians were all black instead of olive-skinned, then the rest of the world would probably see more clearly the blatant discrimination which they face on a daily basis.
I thought that I was beyond being shocked by the antics of the Zionist state but I was wrong; something happened recently which took my breath away. It came by way of an email from an acquaintance I’d met in Egypt some years ago; the title was simple: “Gazan guy with Cancer”.
The message was only 39 words long and I’d like to share it with you. “There is a guy in Gaza who suffers from cancer. Can you find a way to get him to the UK to do the medical care that he needs? Any medical reports are ready to be sent to you.”
Most of us, wherever in the world we live, know some person or family which has been afflicted by cancer, such a terrible disease that even today a lot of people cannot bear to use the C-word. Having seen with my own eyes the pitiful resources available to doctors in Gaza, I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to suffer from any illness in Palestine, let alone one as serious as cancer. Hospitals and clinics depend on charities and medical aid which very often cannot get through to those in need. Quite how cancer sufferers and their carers cope is beyond me.
I mulled over this particular email for a while. Had this been anywhere else in the world I would have gone to the media, organised an airlift, tugged on peoples’ heartstrings and raised tens of thousands of pounds over this man’s plight. However, the reality is that Palestine is largely a dirty word in the mainstream media; a turn-off; a cause to be avoided; so I knew that such a course of action would not work. Instead, I contacted a heroic little charity called Interpal.
The work of this British charity is recognised and admired universally except among US (and British) neocons and, of course, Israel; they have tried – and failed – to demonise the charity so much that it will be closed down. Emerging fearless and victorious from all sorts of court battles and legal clashes, I knew that if anyone could help this cancer sufferer, it would be Interpal, so I forwarded my friend’s email to the charity.
At this stage I imagine that some of you will think that this story has a happy ending, and if this man had been born anywhere else other than Palestine it probably would. Instead, the email that came back from my Interpal contact shocked me.
The charity, I was told, would investigate and do its best to try to help the cancer sufferer, but… “There are currently more than 25,000 people with medical issues awaiting permission from the Egyptians and Israelis to leave Gaza for treatment. Not all will have cancer, but many – too many – are suffering from very serious illnesses.”
This is a truly shocking and depressing statistic, so let me run it by you again: 25,000 people who need medical attention are awaiting permission from the Egyptians and the Israelis to leave Gaza for treatment. There are screaming headlines in Britain every time that the National Health Service fails to meet deadlines for patients. In one of its leaflets, the NHS tells cancer sufferers quite clearly, “You shouldn’t have to wait more than two weeks to see a specialist if your GP suspects you have cancer and urgently refers you.” And yet there are 25,000 Palestinians in Gaza who need medical attention urgently, including cancer victims. We know some of them will never get to see a specialist because of the siege of Gaza and we know that for many more, if they do get to see a specialist, it will be too late.
If 25,000 is a figure difficult to visualise or comprehend then imagine half the crowd who filled the London Olympic Stadium in 2012, or a third-full Old Trafford.
Sadly the statistics coming out of Palestine never fail to shock and dismay. Supporters of Israel and Egypt among Western governments should hang their heads in shame at the fact that seriously ill people are being denied basic medical facilities that they and their fellow citizens take for granted. That such collective punishment of innocent people can be carried out in the name of “self-defence” and the “war against terror” is a terrible indictment of the morality driving those who pull the strings in the West today.
No wonder so many of Interpal’s latest campaigns involve medical aid. It seems that there’s more chance of saving lives within the confines of the tiny, besieged Gaza Strip than there is in expecting any compassion or help from those who maintain the brutal blockade by land, sea and air. It is unlikely that the unfortunate Palestinian man in question who has cancer will be helped, but it doesn’t have to be this way. His case illustrates the need for the siege of Gaza to be lifted immediately and unconditionally. It is within the power of our governments to persuade Israel to do this so we must make sure that they exercise that power without delay. We may not be able to save this one man, but we might help thousands like him.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.