Crossing the Divide
Sally reports on the work of the Hadassah Medical Centre and the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem where Muslims, Christians and Jews work alongside each other helping to save lives.
When you enter the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem, you enter a safe haven where it doesn't matter who or what you are. Muslims Christians and Jews have worked alongside each other at the hospital for almost 100 years. The staff are there to help save lives and everyone is equal.
During my visit I met with Professor Eitan Kerem, Head of the Department of Paediatrics and a specialist in Paediatric Cystic Fibrosis. Eitan had recently established a satellite clinic in Gaza with the help of a dedicated Palestinian Health Care Team. The centre, which opens one day a week, is staffed by volunteers who have not specialized in CF care so Hadassah is now providing specialized training to a team of Palestinian health professionals so they can give optimal treatment to their patients. While CF is a very complicated, multisystem disease which has no cure, a specialized, multidisciplinary staff can ensure a better quality of life for its young victims.
There are many children in the West Bank and Gaza who require regular treatment for chronic illnesses such as CF, kidney disease and cancer and although there are satellite clinics and outreach programmes in some of these areas, facilities and staff are limited. Children requiring more complex treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and kidney dialysis must travel to Israel for treatment which involves complex applications for permits and funding for transport and in war time it becomes more difficult. I was there to discuss the possibility of establishing a specialist paediatric facility on the border.
Around the corner from Hadassah is the St John Eye Hospital, originally established in Jerusalem in 1882. With high rates of poverty in the region, the hospital makes their services available to all, treating patients regardless of their ethnicity, religion or ability to pay.
I was invited to visit their eye hospital in Gaza and having secured permission from the IDF and Hamas, I was taken through the Erez Crossing, a passageway which runs for about one kilometre between the two sides.
Gaza is one of the most densely populated regions in the world with over 1.8m residents in an area of 146 square miles . Donkeys pulling loaded carts weaved in and out of the traffic and clouds of dust and diesel filled the air. Each time we reached an intersection, our driver would dodge around the oncoming vehicles, beeping at pedestrians who seemed intent on throwing themselves in front of the car.
We pulled up outside the eye clinic where hundreds of people were waiting to be seen. St John’s is the only charitable provider of expert eye care in Gaza and their work is incredibly important as rates of blindness are ten times higher in the Palestinian territories than in the West. 80% of blindness is preventable so their intervention is vital. Tens of thousands of Gazan patients rely on treatment at the clinic which works alongside the Jerusalem hospital. For those needing complex surgical intervention, they have an effective referral system which supports patients in negotiating the permit system to gain access to their hospital in Jerusalem for treatment. In spite of immense difficulties and the dangers faced by the staff, the clinic continues to operate in what is essentially still an emergency situation.
On our return to the checkpoint we passed through an area that sustained much of the damage during the conflict. In contrast to the smart apartment blocks that lead down to the port, the bleak landscape of burned out buildings bear testament to the war. Some families have returned to what is left of their apartments and live amongst the ruins of the place they still call home. There are no real signs of peace as yet and the deep-seated barriers of distrust that exist between Palestinian and Israeli societies only serve to perpetuate the conflict.