Life as a symbol of victory
The Arab world has been associated with spring that frightens some and encourages others. In the euphoria of freedom the world seems to have forgotten a tiny piece of land called the Palestinian enclave. Drained by a seven-year-long blockade it can only smell the free air of spring which would not come here. For the first time a team of Russian medics visited the besieged Gaza Strip. Five doctors from Tatarstan and Moscow came to Palestine to help its people.
In one hand there is a scepter, and in the other – an orb. A smiling Egyptian police officer is holding the holy Quran is one hand, and with the other is checking our documents. We go through Rafah crossing, the only window to the world for Gaza. For many people crossing the border takes a lot of time. But for us, “armed” with laissez-passer from the Russian Consulate, there is green light everywhere and all the doors are wide open – in post-Mubarak Egypt as well as in pre-liberated besieged Gaza Strip.
The only people whose homeland is in captivity
Palestinians are usually kept at the crossing for two days.
They are required to provide a good reason for leaving.
They are required to put up with deprivation of the right to freedom of movement and access to health care, the right of access to education and opportunities to meet with family and friends.
They are required an impossible thing – to give up their freedom and live in a cage, into which European Union would throw some handout sops sometimes.
We are moving along an invisible free corridor of Rafah, leaving behind in the waiting room some feeble old Palestinians, crying children and women. Non-Palestinians are required to ignore this racism.
Recently, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met with Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi. The meeting was a historic one, but the results are … worthless! Now, according to the agreements, as many as 1,500 Palestinians will be able to cross Rafah every day, while before it was only 1000. Not a word about free trade, about delivering to destroyed by the seven-year-old blockade Gaza the most essential goods – cement, medical equipment, food products.
And not a word about the most important issue- lifting of the blockade.
Delegation of Solidarity Foundation at Rafah crossing
Gaza in the era of revolutions is full of paradoxes. There is no other place where people would get so inspired by the victories of “Muslim Brotherhood” in the elections (Hamas is an offshoot of this movement) – after every success cheering crowds come out into the streets of Gaza with flags of Arab states.
And nowhere would Arab revolution have responded in such a hollow echo of emptiness.
“This year, the situation is the most complicated, because everyone is busy with Arab revolution. Humanitarian aid has decreased by several times,” said Ashraf Abumhadi, Deputy Head of Pharmacy Department at Gaza’s Ministry of Health. “From January to July the medicines from European Union arrived through the Ramallah only twice. This is 19% of our needs. 30% are covered by humanitarian organizations such as yours.”
And the rest 50% of medicines are simply absent in Gaza. And their delivery is not expected.
He takes us past the empty shelves of pharmaceutical warehouse. We were here a few months ago, when our Foundation brought medicines for Palestinian cancer patients. This time we have brought some consumable medical supplies and spare parts for the equipment. They are a big problem in Gaza: for example, there is no suture thread for surgeries since April.
But that, of course, is a mere compared to the Arab revolution!
The doctor who failed to save his son
During our last visit, in the midst of the events in the Middle East, while tyrants had not yet received their just deserts and the leaders of the revolution were only dreamed about power, we met in Gaza with Helen the Beautiful as we nicknamed her among ourselves. Helen, a teacher at a music school, born in Grozny, was smiling happily: she was heavy with a baby.
This time, she and her husband – Dr. Ala Al-Lidavi, the head of charitable hospital Return – rushed to the hotel as soon as they heard about the arrival of Russian doctors. In Helen’s hands there slept peacefully her 6-month-old son Kamil.
“And they say Russia hasn’t come up yet to understand the problem of Palestine,” Dr. Alya quoted some Italian doctors who were there before us. 85 (!) people came from Italy to help the Palestinians – medical luminaries, politicians, and journalists. “And I told them – if any Russian doctors came here, there would be a long queue to see them in my clinic,” said Dr. Ala ardently.
They really love Russia in Palestine, even though our doctors have come to Gaza for the first time.
He takes the baby with his large hands, Kamil wakes up but makes no sound. “This is the result of Israeli bombings and blockade,” said the father. Kamil has got hydrocephalus and a lot of other related diseases.
Ashraf Abumhadi, Deputy Head of Pharmacy Department at Gaza’s Ministry of Health demonstrates some empty boxes that are supposed to contain medical supplies for Traumatology
During the “Cast Lead” phosphorous bombs exploded right in the yard of Dr. Ala’s block of flats. And now neither Helenthe Beautiful nor medic Ala have any idea how to help their son. In Gaza, there is not a single expert for such children like Kamil. And more than 50% of the population here are children.
“I go to the Internet and look with envy – how many clinics there are in Russia, where they could help my son,” says Elena. We agree with some sadmess – every month our Foundation directs children from Russia’s regions to one or another hospital in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tatarstan, Ukraine, paying for their treatment or travel expenses. Russian parents only need to choose a convenient time for the trip.
But the doctors in Gaza aren’t even able to leave the territory to get some training, take part in a conference, or to study.
Israel’s secret weapon
The seven years of blockade have exhausted material and human resources. Pharmacist Ashraf points out that Israel hits the weakest spots of Gaza, insisting on ban of import of medicines and equipment. 206 items are lacking in warehouses of Gaza now. But those available are often substitutes that have negative effects on one’s health. And the medicines delivered as humanitarian aid sometimes have very short shelf life. The drugs for oncology, surgery and intensive care are especially in short supply. Chronically ill patients (that means the elderly, diabetics, people with disabilities) are generally deprived of drugs – during the siege the system of social protection of the population in Gaza has simply collapsed.
More than 50% of Gaza population are children
Ministry of Health notes that the most common diseases in the Palestinian enclave are oncology of the respiratory system or blood, diseases of organs of hearing and vision, immune system, congenital heart disease. Doctors attribute this not only to living in the terrible conditions of the blockade, and the mental state of pregnant women (about 70% of infants and about a third of pregnant women in Gaza suffer from anemia).
And not only to the terrible quality of water (a civilized state of Israel bombs Gaza wastewater treatment plants, doesn’t let rebuild them, and, as evidenced in report by Save the Children published in June, contamination of drinking water in the Gaza Strip will have long-term effects for health of Palestinians).
“Are there any studies on this subject?” we ask Dr. Ala. He shakes his head – doctors in Gaza have been demanding for many years an investigation into weapons used during the “Cast Lead”, the subsequent bombings and their impact. However, no international organization has undertaken it yet.
Our people in Palestine
Maternity wards in Gaza are overcrowded. Gynecologist from Tatarstan Lilia Gazizova helped her colleagues at Shifa hospital. “In 24 hours at the hospital they have 70 childbirths, of which almost half are cesarean section operations. Doctors end their shifts totally wasted. It is very hard work,” said our doctor.
Surgeon Muslim Gainanov from Tatarstan performs an operation in the European medical center in Gaza
Some things that happen here can hardly be associated with the twenty-first century. Imagine, in order to make room for the constant inflow of new patients they practice … expedited deliveries. Young mothers are often discharged from the hospital within a few hours after birth, which presents big health risks, including the likelihood of postpartum hemorrhage, infection, and neonatal sepsis.
All these are not uncommon in the Gaza Strip and are the leading cause of maternal and postnatal mortality.
Oncologist Gulnara Vafina from our team (“a fragile woman with amazing hands,” as Palestinian colleagues from the Red Crescent Hospital described her) operated on women whom doctors in Gaza were unable to help. Women who suffer from cancer but because of the blockade could not go abroad for treatment and had been waiting for months for the only possible sad outcome. “We selected for Dr. Gulnara the most complex medical cases. And we were surprised by her skill, ” said the head of Red Crescent Hospital department.
Half of people with cancer die in Gaza due to lack of medicines. Out of the 60 names of cancer medicines there are only 30 here. These official figures were made public at a conference on oncology, where we were invited by officials from Ministry of Health in Gaza. The event addressed the issue of … construction of a modern cancer center.
Gazans are amazing people. Not only do they rejoice in the victories of the Arab revolution, which significantly worsened their own financial situation (“You have to wait a little bit now, and everything will be better than we can imagine,” – told us Ashraf, standing in the middle of an empty pharmaceutical warehouse). They live in the most grandiose dreams. “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness” – said at the conference Khalid Thabit, oncologist from Shifa hospital.
Russian ophthalmologist-surgeon Andrei Mironov in the operating room
Never mind that all construction materials and equipment are prohibited from being imported into Gaza, and they are delivered through “lifeline” – underground tunnels. And the proverb about candle sounds very much down-to-earth in Gaza. The besieged territory gets electricity for only 8 hours a day. All across Gaza there is a great din of working generators. Most families in Gaza do not have generators, and they live by candlelight.
We are in the office of chief doctor of Al-Nasr eye clinic together with Andrei Mironov, a Russian surgeon, ophthalmologist, waiting for the generator to start working (it went out of order yesterday) so that we could go to the operating room. Breaking generators or the lack of fuel for them are quite common. Because of this they have to stop completely the operations in hospitals for two to three hours every day.
There is only one professional like our Andrei in Gaza – for more than one and a half million people. It is Mahmoud Honim, the head of vitreoretinal surgery unit. He is also deputy director of the clinic. He also works for a private eye clinic.
“We need at least 3-4 such surgeons as Andrei. Now we can operate on just 30% of the number of ill people. The problem is also the medical equipment “, says Mahmoud.
Most of the equipment that has been supplied to Gaza is decommissioned. It is impossible to legally organize the supply of spare parts for them. The system they use for treatment of patients with diabetes in Al-Nasr has been broken for 10 months – and the people in need of surgery just go blind. Mahmoud’s unit didn’t work for 3 months because there were no laser tools. When operating system breaks down, the deputy director of the clinic personally carries this many-kilo YAG-Leiser to Rafah crossing, to send for repairs to Egypt. He can’t do it through Israel – the machine would stay at Eretz crossing for 3-4 months. Just like that.
Light a candle
All there is in Gaza is the result of enormous efforts and strive for victory of the Palestinians themselves. It is true, two or three or humanitarian medical convoys from around the world come here every month. Our doctors came to Gaza together with an Egyptian professor, who during the week gave trainings for Palestinian doctors, and with a Yemeni delegation – they brought from poor and starving Yemen some drugs for Palestinian cancer patients to the amount of $ 200,ooo.
But no one is able to help a person if he won’t change himself. “When Bosnia was under siege, very many people died. When Gaza was blockaded, we began to dig the tunnels, ” said to me Mahmoud Abudraz, Head of Union of Arab Doctors in Gaza.
Oncologist Gulnara Vafina operated on women whom doctors in Gaza were unable to help
Gaza has changed in the few months that we were not here. Some rare houses grew on the coast and in the main streets – each constructed from materials that arrived via underground tunnels. But the devastation inside the Gaza Strip and the poverty have exacerbated.
And the cheerful «Welcome to Gaza!» to Russian doctors, and the broad smiles of Palestinians, replying “Everything’s just fine!” to our “How are you?” would only add controversy to the general picture.
There is no shortage of only one thing here – the faith. They believe in God and believe in victory.
And we should be grateful that we can help the Palestinians.
Thank you, Gaza.
Lilia Mukhamedyarova, President of Solidarity Foundation