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Where’s the Palestinian Hadassah?

Today’s Haaretz Magazine profile of Palestinian filmmaker Rima Essa and her new documentary on a Palestinian child with leukemia raises important questions. Essa (and presumably her film) complains mainly about Israel. But she also has harsh words for Palestinian hospitals.

“‘At [Israeli hospital] Hadassah Ein Karem the oncology ward looks very nice and well kept; there’s a playroom and toys and someone who devotes their time to the sick children. … At the hospitals in the territories you don’t find conditions like that. At [West Bank hospital] Al-Hussein, I saw a nicely painted playroom with Lego and puzzles, but it was open only two hours a day because there was no budget and no volunteers.

‘The people who live in the territories don’t have the same kind of awareness. Maybe because they themselves live in difficult conditions; maybe it’s a cultural thing. I saw Ahlam’s mother pleading with neighbors and people from the area to donate blood for her daughter. There’s no awareness in our society about things like donating blood, or organ donations’. …

[Essa] documented Al-Hussein’s use of drugs from Israel that were past their expiration date. In one of the film’s toughest scenes, the medical staff knows that two injections of a certain drug are needed, but the department only has enough for one. The staff decides to divide the one dose they have between Ahlam and another little girl. …”

Clearly, the Palestinian Authority can’t fund its hospitals as Israel does (though it could stop buying expired drugs): It’s a young, struggling state-in-the-making, while Israel is a 62-year-old, comparatively wealthy state. But Israel had relatively good hospitals even when it, too, was a young, struggling state-to-be, thanks to the generosity of overseas Jews, who built, equipped, and staffed them. Hadassah Hospital, for instance, was founded by the American Hadassah organization, which built six hospitals in Israel before the state’s establishment. Even today, donations from overseas Jews contribute greatly to Israel’s cutting-edge medicine.

Like the Jews, Palestinians have a large Diaspora. Also like the Jews, parts of that Diaspora are well-educated and well-off, with estimated assets of $40-80 billion.

But there the similarity ends — because overseas Palestinians evidently have no interest in doing for the PA what overseas Jews did for pre-state Israel. If they did, their hospitals wouldn’t look as Essa described.

Moreover, Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. But there are 22 Arab states and 56 Muslim states, many of them among the richest in the world. Had they any interest in helping their Palestinian brethren, they could easily build hospitals rivaling anything in Israel. But they don’t.

Finally, there are the international-aid organizations that claim to care so deeply about the Palestinians, like Turkey’s IHH, which sponsored May’s flotilla to Gaza. But it turns out most of the medicines they donate are expired and must be tossed: According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, only 30 percent of donated medical aid is actually usable.

With friends like these, Palestinians don’t need enemies. But that’s precisely why, 17 years after the PA’s establishment, they still need Israel so much.



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