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 the Director of the Hospital, Dr Osnat Levtzion-Korach to discuss the possibility of establishing a humanitarian corridor that would enable children to have access to vital medical treatment even during times of war. There are many children in the West Bank and Gaza who require regular treatment for chronic illnesses and although Hadassah have set up satellite clinics and outreach programmes in some of these areas, facilities and staff are limited.
Professor Eitan Kerem, the head of Pediatrics 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—three physicians, a nurse, and a physiotherapist—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.
Children requiring more complex treatments like chemotherapy and kidney dialysis must travel to Israel for treatment. This involves complex applications for permits and funding for transport and during war time it becomes more difficult. Dr Osnat assured me that if we can arrange for these patients to be brought to Hadassah, the hospital would be happy to help.
Around the corner 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. They are often supported by Doctors from Hadassah who make no charge.
I was invited to visit their satellite clinic in Gaza City and having secured permission from the IDF and Hamas, I was taken through the Erez crossing. Accompanying me was Paul Williams, Head of Administration and Service Support at the St John Eye Hospital Group and I followed him along the passageway which runs for about 1 kilometre between Israel and Gaza. I had made similar journeys across no-mans land in Bosnia and Kosovo but this time there were no snipers taking pot shots at me.
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 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.
Dr Majed Abu Ramadan is a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon who is also the Mayor. He drove us to the port and we ate in a restaurant that overlooks the colourful fishing boats bobbing about on the water. The restaurant could seat hundreds of people but apart from ourselves and the waiters, there was nobody there.
Dr Majed explained that the incidence of diabetes related problems like Retinopathy and Glaucoma are very common amongst the Palestinian population and so screening is essential. People in outlying areas have no means of transport so the clinic is hoping to secure mobile equipment.
On our way to the border 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.
It’s vital that the situation does not go back to how it was before the ceasefire. No more firing of rockets and mortars, no more death tunnels, no more shelling of schools, hospitals and mosques. No more sirens wailing across the city, or the mad dash to reach a safe room or a shelter. No more bloodshed and no more destruction because violence, whether in the form of terrorist attacks, Qassam rockets or Israeli shells will only lead to further conflict. It’s time to stop building tunnels and walls and time to start building bridges.
Dr Osnat Levtzion-Korach, Director of Hadassah
Consultant Opthalmic Surgeon
Dr Majed Abu Ramadan, Mayor of Gaza
The St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital
Crossing into Gaza
The St John Eye Centre in Gaza
The Erez Crossing
Professor Eitan Kerem
The new eye hospital built by St John