By returned EA Geoff, Northern West Bank
“It’s a terrible thing that we cannot get permits renewed to provide this important medical service to forgotten communities” says Suhad Hashem-Shrim, a health professional with Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS). PMRS makes regular visits to villages in the seam zone, close to Highway 55 in the mid-west of occupied Palestine. The seam zone is a strip of land between the 1967 Green Line – the internationally accepted border between Israel and occupied Palestine – and the Israeli separation barrier. In several places the barrier has been built deep into occupied Palestinian land, dividing villages and cutting Palestinians off from their fields. This is in violation of international law. Often the seam zone is built around Israeli settlements that are many kilometres inside occupied Palestine. This particular part of the seam zone houses the Israeli settlement of Alfe Menashe. Palestinians cannot access the zone without Israeli-issued permits.
Our team was invited to visit two communities, Arab ar-Ramadin al-Janubi and Arab Abu Farda, each with a population of about 300 former shepherds and farming families. We were taken through Jaljulye checkpoint near Qalqilya. Two of the medical team told us their permits expired that day. Both had applied unsuccessfully to get new permits – they were told that no new ones were being issued. This has been our experience during the last month at other checkpoints and gates. We have yet to establish how widespread the practice is, but potentially it has huge implications for livelihoods and services.
For the last few years, every two weeks, a full medical team of two doctors, two health workers and two support staff made the journey to give support and medical assistance to these isolated communities.
This time there were delays at the checkpoint but after the formalities and a vehicle check we went to the first community, Arab ar-Ramadin al-Janubi, where we met the head teacher of the local school. We were given permission to observe the medical clinic in operation. The houses in the village are largely made of temporary materials: corrugated iron, plastic sheeting, wood, mud and straw plaster. The concrete extension to the school is the only real permanent structure – some of the classrooms have mud and straw exteriors. We were told that conditions are basic but water and electricity are available onsite. Most men in the community are either self-employed or work in the nearby settlements. Few continue their traditional farming life. The medical team saw seven women that day and provided them with general medical care.
In the second community, Arab Abu Farda, we were told that conditions are worse. There is no running water or electricity and proper sanitation is a problem for the villagers and their animals.
We heard that typical adult illnesses include respiratory and gastrointestinal problems and infections, clearly associated with the living conditions. The clinic was held in the open air by the medical bus – thankfully the weather was good. The doctors stated that even though they are able to provide some basic medical care, infant mortality is high.
There was a strong concern that if PMRS medical team permits are not renewed, this service could quickly close. Suhad said “For the Israelis this is part of Israel but yet they don’t allow the people to receive medical services”. Leaving both communities more isolated means they will face inevitable decisions about whether they will have to leave the area or carry on without vital medical care.
Write to your TD/MP requesting that the Irish or UK government encourage the Israeli government to provide permits to those providing services and working in the seam zone.