In late May of 2016, I travelled to Palestine along with the American Federation Ramallah Human Service Network traveled to Ramallah for one week to help visually document the work of the AFRHSN’s charitable Medical Mission it was my the first time. Having lived and worked extensively as a video producer in the greater Middle East and North African region, I can say that I came prepared with some political and historical knowledge of the area. As one might imagine, however, knowledge gained via research and understanding gained through personal experience are two very distinct things. From the moment I first laid my own eyes on the militarized separation barrier that cuts through this land, my experiences accompanying the mission were genuinely transformative and I remain unequivocally grateful for the time I was able to spend there.
Over the duration of the week, I saw the doctors of the Medical Mission administer an extensive variety of medical treatments, amongst them tumor removals, reconstructive surgeries, physical therapy, burn care, and one particularly memorable resuscitation. The patients – men, women, and young children – came from all over the West Bank to receive this urgent care.
As the days progressed, I saw that the broad scope of care provided by the doctors of the Medical Mission was not limited to performing surgeries. These doctors worked with groups of local surgeons to direct and structure complex procedures and emergency medicine practices. They led workshops to train medical practitioners in crucial techniques that can save the lives of those who will take ill in the future. They assessed vital needs for medical equipment and strategized about how to do the most with available resources. Many of them even came bearing donated medical equipment in their own baggage, carrying much-needed items that would be received eagerly by local hospital staff. With also having the understanding that two containers where sent by the Medical mission from the USA, but apparently there is still a struggle to bring the equipment into Ramallah through the borders of Jordan. Peter Omran from the Heart of Mercy International has been trying to orchestrate the work of bringing in the containers for the past two to three months.
As one doctor I spoke with noted most succinctly, the medical needs in Palestine are vast. Beyond the direct physical violence that Israeli militarization incurs on the Palestinian population, I came to realize some of the scope of the drastic systemic impacts of occupation upon the daily health of Palestinian people. Many of the patients I met suffered from preventable ailments that had dramatically worsened due to a lack of consistent access to medical care. In another case, during an orthoscopic surgery, the procedure had to be paused because the instruments being used were simply too worn and a replacement had to located immediately in order to continue. On yet another day, a medical student, eager to receive training led by a Medical Mission doctor on the treatment of burn patients, left her home the night before the workshop and slept overnight at the hospital. She couldn’t take the risk that an hours-long wait at a checkpoint would stop her from being able to attend in the morning.
When I mentioned this story and my mounting personal disgust with military checkpoints to a member of our traveling group, he told me about a young pregnant woman who went into labor after the hours of operation for a particular checkpoint that stood between her and a hospital. Ignoring the desperate pleas of her husband who drove her to the checkpoint – only a short distance from the safety of a medical facility – the soldiers refused to allow the woman through. Their baby died right there, in childbirth. I had heard the term open-air prison used to describe Palestine before, but it was at that moment when I started to grasp the human cost of what that really means.
Despite these immense challenges, I witnessed the ceaseless compassion of both the Medical Mission and local doctors and their tireless dedication to the preservation and improvement of life. I was further moved by the Medical Mission doctors’ descriptions of how much they themselves had learned from their local counterparts – lessons in ingenuity and resourcefulness, in perseverance and resilience.
During my time spent both inside and outside of the medical setting, I too had the opportunity learn these and countless other lessons in my interactions with members of the Ramallah community. As a resident of New York City, the indefatigable kindness of every single person I encountered in Ramallah was a stunning experience. From the remarkable artisanship represented in the old city of Nablus, to the tawny rolling landscapes dotted with silvery-green olive trees, to the truly impressive musical performances by the budding young virtuosos of the Edward Said Music Conservatory, every moment of this trip was absolutely unforgettable and filled me with hope.
The unbelievably warm, welcoming, proud, and strong people of Ramallah, and of all of Palestine, have with their determination accomplished astonishing achievements and continue to do so. But the political reality is such that they cannot do this alone. We, the global community, have a responsibility to assist the Palestinian people in their struggle to ensure access to the fundamental services that fulfill basic human needs. Whether it be recording a video or performing open-heart surgery, each of us have valuable skills and resources that we can contribute. If we unite these efforts in service and in solidarity, I believe that we can truly make an impact in the ongoing development of this beautifully inclusive and diverse society.
Please make the effort to support the AFRHSN in all of its efforts in raising funds to help in buying medical supplies, also if you are a Medical Doctor and can help, call Bajis Katwan
650-279-2100 or email your information to AFRPGolf@gamil.com.
The Medical Mission Golf tournament will be held on 10/10/2016 at the Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club in California, all proceeds will be used to help buy Medical equipment and supplies for our future trips to Palestine.
– Anna Ozbek