MARTON (The Lancet): Health care and the Palestinian bid for statehood 19Oct11 October 18, 2011


by Ruchama Marton  -  The Lancet  Volume 278, Issue 9800, p1375  -  15 October 2011
Everything one can say about the health-care system in Palestine was summed up by the physician and political leader Haidar Abdel-Shafi in the wake of the Oslo Agreement in September, 1993. He said: “We cannot take care of health and education as long as we live under occupation”.
On Sept 13, 1993, I happened to be in Gaza city. A taxi driver told me: “My expectations from the Agreement are very few. I would like to have a better health care system, better education for my children and much better roads in the Gaza Strip”. Maybe he didn’t ask for too much, but these things were impossible to achieve because of the reallocation of responsibility between the State of Israel and the newborn Palestinian Authority, which took place without a parallel redistribution of power.
The costly responsibility for civil needs such as health care and education was shifted to the Palestinians. Yet Israel maintained full power over the borders, movement on the roads, access to water, access to health services, taxes, and the import and export of goods. The Palestinians could not even guarantee their health teams and patients free movement to medical centres, hospitals, and clinics. This new form of occupation was actually worse, since the new “balance” saddled the Palestinians with material costs while providing them with only the illusion of power.
Coming back to Tel Aviv in 1993, Neve Gordon and I urgently wrote an 11-point document demanding two main things from Israel: (1) immediate concern by the Israeli medical institutions for the welfare of individual patients until an adequate Palestinian service had been developed, and (2) cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the development of an independent medical and health infrastructure. Both sides and the negotiators practically ignored our proposal.
The reason I’m mentioning this sad history is that now, as the Palestinian Authority waits to hear whether the UN Security Council will back its bid for full membership, the situation is much the same. Israel has used health and medicine as an instrument of control and oppression of the Palestinian people and leadership in the occupied Palestinian territory throughout the years since 1967. We at Physicians for Human Rights—Israel conceive this situation as a disease for which the cure is the total removal of control by Israel over the Palestinians. There is no way that a future Palestinian state, if there ever is one, can handle the health-care system (or any other socioeconomic system) if the Israeli occupation and control continues.
Haider could see it much before most people could. This is why he refused to take part in the negotiations after Madrid and even more so after the White House hand-shaking in September, 1993. Maybe now leaders will see it too. The Israeli policy makers have the inherent obligation of mending all the wrongs inflicted by them during the 44 years of occupation. This is the way the heavy responsibility of building a health-care system will be borne by those who have the power to do it.
Ruchama Marton is the President and Founder of Physicians for Human Rights—Israel, Jaffa, Tel Aviv 68135, Israel

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