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Charitable and humanitarian work is the ‘pounding heart’ of Palestine

Palestinians, in particular the elderly, sick and disabled, come together to call for international efforts to save Gaza from the humanitarian crisis [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Palestine is still at the heart of the politics of the Middle East, good and bad alike, and the pounding heart of Palestine is charitable and humanitarian work by relief organisation finding it more and more difficult to get aid to where it is needed most. The chaos engulfing the international community has politicised charity work in a way that has little regard for the devastating impact on beneficiaries who are among the neediest people in the world.

Suffocating Palestine and its people is a deliberate strategy employed by the Israeli occupation authorities. In the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, they are doing this through the Apartheid Wall which surrounds cities, towns and villages, restricting people’s access to their land, schools, hospitals and workplaces. The resultant economic stagnation makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to live and work with some modicum of decency and dignity; unemployment is rife. The Gaza Strip, meanwhile, has been in the grip of an Israeli-led siege for the past 12 years; malnutrition is on the rise, and the medical sector is close to collapse.

Since the beginning, Israel has aimed for the Palestinians in the occupied territories to reach Point Zero, raise the white flag of surrender and repent for daring to dream of living in freedom on their own land, like other human beings. At that stage, the Zionist dream will be to remove the remaining Palestinians from historic Palestine and create “Greater Israel” as the ultimate Jewish state free of Arab Palestinians. The most racist of ethnic cleansing projects in modern history would then be completed.

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The Palestinians, though, see the possibility of a different ending, and their resilience and resistance has provoked the Zionist occupiers to unleash one of the world’s most powerful armies on unarmed civilians. Not content with shooting, killing and wounding hundreds of peaceful protesters, Israel is revelling in its ability to prevent Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from getting the very basics of life, including food, fresh water and adequate healthcare. Young people are well-educated but face a life of unemployment because politicians on both sides of the border play out their political games at the expense of ordinary families with ambitions to live normal lives and provide some stability.

The occupation has gone too far; it continues to prevent food, water and medicines from entering the besieged territory, while also launching frequent and brutal military offensives. Who can honestly blame the Palestinians for sticking to their legitimate rights to resist the occupation and return to their land? How can the victims of this brutality be blamed for wanting nothing more than to live in dignity, and not as slaves to a racist system that doesn’t even acknowledge their humanity?

The resilience of the people of Gaza is astonishing. Much larger territories and populations have succumbed in the face of much less than what the Palestinians have been subjected to, and yet still they stand strong against overwhelming odds.

In the West Bank and Jerusalem, there is an undeclared siege. The movements of the people are restricted by Walls and checkpoints, and their access to vital facilities such as healthcare and education is limited, with the result that they are suffering great hardship.

Gaza is the “open-air prison” in which Israel tests its new weapons and ammunition against live targets. The occupation state field tests its other tools of oppression against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem. From checkpoints to daily harassment, maltreatment, armed raids, house demolitions and the confiscation of land, the lives and livelihoods of the Palestinians are chained to the whims of the brutal occupation. Even the Palestinian economy, such as it is, is dependent on Israel’s; it is yet another aspect of the occupation intended to give Israel absolute control over the people of Palestine.

Palestinian school students shout slogans and hold placards in a protest against the US move to freeze funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees on 31 January, 2018 at the al-Nusairat refugee camp, in central Gaza Strip [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

Palestinian school students protest against the US move to freeze funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees on 31 January, 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

How can well-meaning human beings stand aside and do nothing when confronted by such scenes of wretched squalor, misery and deprivation? Who can hear the cries of the sick and needy and not feel their pain?

Even under difficult and complicated circumstances, none of us is exempt from the duty to do something to help. We have a humanitarian responsibility to do what we can for the sick Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip. The health sector has been affected very badly by the Israeli-led siege. It is arguably the key sector because it is related directly to the ability of human beings to live and work normally.

The blockade has been intensified by punitive action by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, with funding and supplies for Gaza withheld for political reasons. Around half of the medicines on the essential drugs list are unavailable in Gaza. Medical disposables such as disinfectant, bandages, syringes and so on, without which no hospital can function, are also in extremely short supply. Equipment and resources which are vital for medical laboratories and blood banks to operate effectively are either too expensive or simply not available. This affects everyone, from the youngest baby to the eldest, infirm patient; indeed, everyone who needs medication, cancer treatment, dialysis, immunisation, epidemiology, surgery, intensive care and pre-natal and early years support.

According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, hundreds of essential medical devices are out of service because Israel will not allow spare parts and replacements to be imported. The closure of the border crossings also blocks seriously ill patients from seeking essential and possibly life-saving treatment abroad. Hundreds of such patients have died waiting for permission to travel, which hasn’t been given.

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The shortage of fuel and electricity cuts mean that medical facilities often have to rely on emergency generators for hours on end. This has led to a reduction in the number of operations which surgeons are able to carry out. The siege has also had an impact on the access to professional training courses and conferences which are essential for medical personnel to keep abreast of the latest developments in their field.

In an effort to tackle all of these problems at a very practical level, it is intended to bring together charitable organisations and others involved in the medical sector to serve the people of Palestine, in the occupied territories and beyond. Charities, NGOS and humanitarian organisations are Palestine’s pounding heart, and we are determined not to let the pulse stop.

With this objective, a conference is being held in Beirut on 19 and 20 April: “Palestine… the Pulse will not Stop” will provide NGOs and others with the opportunity to support the health sector in occupied Palestine, to bring an end to the unjust and illegal siege, and to provide essential medical support to patients in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The conference in the Lebanese capital is under the patronage of His Eminence Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, the Grand Mufti of the Republic of Lebanon. It will focus on his programme to look into the adoption of the most urgent projects within the health sector in Palestine and then, importantly, start to put them into effect.

#SaveGaza 

The momentum of humanitarian efforts in the Gaza Strip has to be restored, and this conference should help to do that. Quality projects on the ground are needed to make real changes in the performance of the health sector, benefiting people of all ages in the territory. A fund is being established to provide free treatment for the poorest in society; projects such as the provision of fuel and alternative energy sources will make a real difference to health provision across Gaza. In-depth studies have been conducted in cooperation with the Palestinian Ministry of Health and medical institutions in Gaza to ensure that the most effective use of scarce resources is managed.

The organisers of the conference are well aware of the complex political context within which charities and NGOs helping the Palestinians have to operate. Nevertheless, they wish to lay great emphasis on the fact that the objectives are purely humanitarian and are aimed at saving lives, not making matters worse. All charitable and humanitarian institutions are invited to engage and participate in these noble efforts to end the suffering of the besieged people in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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