Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt #3 from June 2002

(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: The bus had barely stopped burning when Sharon retaliated by sending in Israeli attack helicopters and tanks into the suicide bomber’s hometown of Jenin and into Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah. Earlier, the Israelis had devastated the headquarters compound of Yasser Arafat, but the soldiers found plenty of new targets to blow up, including shooting high-caliber shells into where Arafat slept and ate. The exercise was not intended to kill or capture Arafat but the message was once again made very clear that if Arafat could not control the violence of his people against Israel then the Israelis would once again come in and capture and punish the terrorist perpetrators.

In fact, just the day before the bus bombing, George Tenet, the head of the US CIA had told Arafat that if he did not prevent attacks, he would stand alone in facing Israeli reprisals, an apparent threat that the United States would give Sharon a freer hand in retaliating.

Well, that was the Ramallah and West Bank into which I entered to do the needs assessment studies on Friday, June 7, 2002.

Our taxi van took Mohamed and me to the front gate of the Jodeh family home. It was a handsome, four-storied structure made of traditional, native, tan, Holy Land stone. The parents had lived on the main floor, and then in subsequent years they built three more floors hoping to accommodate three additional sons and their wives when they retired and moved back to Ramallah.

The Jodeh home was built on a hillside. Directly up the hill and across the street, Arafat had built his Palestinian Authority Hospital. Arafat’s government headquarters compound, the fancy new preventative security palace (housing his elite security forces and new intelligence technology), and the new hospital were the three symbols of pride and joy for the strutting Palestinian authority. They were badges of identity. 

After a fine Arab dinner, it was time to actually lie down and try to sleep after the two straight days and nights of constant travel.

Saturday, June 8

Mohamed had done an excellent job of setting our itinerary for the days of my visit. We would spend Saturday and Sunday in Ramallah. Monday we would travel to Jerusalem and possibly Bethlehem and perform needs assessments and meet key Palestinian health officials. Tuesday we would travel to Nablus in the north. Wednesday would be spent in the hotbed of most recent radicalism, the town of Jenin, then, back to Jerusalem for meetings before taking a taxi from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv for the midnight flight back to Toronto.

Our first meeting Sunday morning was with Friends of Patients Rehabilitation and Therapy Hospital. Steve Socabe, with whom I had worked before in Gaza Strip, West Bank, and the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, was associated with Rehabilitation Hospital in Ramallah. Ninety-four percent of the patients of that facility were there with war-related injuries. They handled a lot of cases of spinal cord injuries resulting from gunshot wounds or shrapnel fragment wounds resulting from the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts. The hospital served as a referral hospital for patients from all over the West Bank. Within just the past 60 days there had been 10,700 wounded Palestinians in the region, resulting in 1,500 patients with permanent disabilities requiring rehabilitation. Forty percent of all injuries happened to kids under age 18. 

Dr. Bitawi Ahmed was the medical director of the facility. He was a very qualified orthopedic surgeon and along with the chairman of the board of the center, gave us a very thorough tour of the institution and helped us with our needs assessment questions.

During the tour of the recovery rooms in the hospital, I was impressed with the number of young boys, in their teens and early 20s, who had been disabled by gunshot wounds or explosions. Many of them were permanently paralyzed either from their neck or waist down. I spent a little time with a tall thirteen-year-old boy and his father who was attending the boy’s bedside. The boy was a sharp, bright-eyed fellow with curly hair and a quick smile. A bomb explosion had severed the spinal cord in his lower back. He would not have use of his lower body for the rest of his life. His father really appreciated my taking an interest in his son. He could hardly believe that an American would travel to Ramallah to try to help them with their medical situation.

Dr. Ahmed shared with me his big dream. As an orthopedic surgeon he was pushing for a new orthopedic operating theater at the facility. At the time of our assessment, he was in the practice of going to another Ramallah hospital to perform patients’ surgeries. They were then moved to the rehabilitation center. The board of directors had already given him permission to extend the size of the main building for the surgical room, but none of them had any idea of how they would get the needed pieces of operating equipment or supplies for the new project. You could only imagine how excited he was when he learned that it might be possible to get Project C.U.R.E. to help in supplying the necessary pieces of medical equipment, surgical supplies, and orthopedic devices.

Before we left the facility, Dr. Ahmed compiled a very extensive list of items needed and presented it to me in hopes that Project C.U.R.E. could be of assistance in the future.

We then traveled across the city of Ramallah for an interesting meeting with an organization called “Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.” Dr. Jihad Mashal, the director general, explained how their organization tried to represent the needs of a large number of facilities within the West Bank and Gaza. Their primary concern was with the rural clinics and small town hospitals where it was extremely difficult to arrange for any medical assistance from the outside. The health ministry was stretched in their capacity to serve the larger hospitals in the major cities of Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Hebron. Most of the secondary hospitals and clinics had to go begging for assistance.

The mayor of one of the smaller towns presented me with a list of desperately needed medical goods for the Qabuan municipality. His hospital and his clinics were trying to do their best but had no way to access basic medical goods to meet the general needs of the people. 

Once more we climbed into the small car driven by Mohamed’s uncle and re-crossed the city of Ramallah to our next appointment. As we drove, I remarked about the many buildings that had been damaged or destroyed by what appeared to be bombs or tank fire. Many of the streets and curbs had been torn up by tracked vehicles traveling through the city of Ramallah.

Mohamed asked, “When we are finished with the next appointment would you like to take a little tour and get a better look at the damage to our city?”

“Yes, of course,” I answered.

Next Week: Personally observing Arafat in his bombed out headquarters and home 

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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