Crossing the Divide
During the war between Israel and Gaza in 2014, Sally Becker visited the region to highlight the need for a humanitarian corridor for sick and injured children in need of specialist treatment. Professor Eitan Kerem, Head of the Department of Paediatrics at the Hadassah Medical Centre is a specialist in Paediatric Cystic Fibrosis. He 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 provides 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.
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.
Having secured permission from the IDF and Hamas to visit the eye hospital in Gaza, Sally 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 weave in and out of the traffic and clouds of dust and diesel pollute the air.
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.
Professor Eitan Kerem
The St John Eye Centre in Gaza
On her return to the checkpoint Sally 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.