by Yousef Farsakh
As the situation in Gaza deteriorates and the world’s superpower endorses the growing violence by not bringing accountability to Israel’s actions, many have forgotten about the humanitarian blockade of the West Bank. While not remotely as deadly and evil as the blockade, siege, and now massacre in Gaza, the world must not forget that Israel’s support for Abbas’ Fatah government has not prevented them from continuing the illegal confiscation of Palestinian freedom and humanitarian right.
I write about this just as I complete a one-week medical mission in Nablus, Palestine with two American doctors through the Palestine Children Relief Fund. The objective of this mission was to complete 28 pediatric urology surgeries on complex medical cases from all around the West Bank. My first glimpse of Israeli cooperation and compassion was the six and a half hours my Arab American colleague and I spent being questioned at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. After questioning every aspect of our identity and upbringing as well as relations with the state of Israel, we were released to our patient driver awaiting our final arrival. Upon our arrival initially in Ramallah and then Nablus, we discovered that the medical equipment, instruments, and supplies that the doctor brought with him were confiscated at the airport.
Perhaps one of our biggest obstacles that eventually proved too large to be overcome actually ended up being one of our most aspiring inspirations. I say this for a few reasons. Pediatric urologist Dr. Balcom decided to declare his personal and medical items to Israeli customs. Following questions regarding the future use of the instruments, the doctor reported that they would be utilized in a volunteer medical mission in one of Palestine’s largest hospitals, Rafidia Hospital, as part of a scheduled PCRF mission. With this information at hand, the Israeli customs made the decision to withhold the bags of supplies.
Once we all met in Nablus and were able to organize, we began efforts to recover the bags. Mrs. Balcom was very active in this process and initiated a contact and interchange with the American consulate and embassy. The process proved unpromising as the blunt nature of Israeli control reared its hypocritical head. Customs officials instructed the American embassy that, because of what these items will be used for, and where they are going, tax needs to be paid on the entry and exit of the instruments. Additionally, our organization will need to have a signed letter from the Minister of Health of the Palestinian Authority stating who’s supplies these are, how and where they will be used, and that none of the items will stay in Palestine or be donated to the hospital. These conditions effectively told us that we would not get out supplies, and to give up on the bags. Because of this, the doctors began to use local instruments and adapted to the present circumstances.
This had a positive effect because of the reflection and impression it left on the local doctors. For the American doctors to use the same local instruments, and with them perform the advanced surgeries, the local Palestinian doctors gain confidence with regard to their own performance as well. By the end of the mission, these Palestinian doctors were doing the same work our doctors were.
But our efforts to retrieve the items did not end with the initial Israeli demands. After continuous efforts put forth by Mrs. Balcom, who is a practicing paralegal, Hana Abdeen, a PCRF social worker out of Nablus, as well as myself, contact with the hospital’s executive director allowed us a path to reach the Minister of Health. Surprisingly, after half of the mission had already gone by, we were able to secure the letter and had it forwarded from the American embassy to the Israelis. The response from Israel was that we now need a letter from the Minister of Health of the State of Israel. It was very typical of Israeli political discourse and dealings with Palestinian or pro-Palestinian human rights organizations. Despite this, our mission was a success and thanks to the doctors, many children received critical surgeries and will make good and swift recoveries.
I would like to thank the Palestine Children Relief Fund and Steve Sosebee for their work and persistence despite the hostile and illegal actions of Israel. I would like to thank the doctors who go through these situations and come out with more resolve to do good, despite the Israeli violations of human rights. Moreover, I would also like to thank the donors who make all of this possible and who should rest assured that their money is doing remarkable and essential work in many places and for many people.