Elderly people in Palestine
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 02.11.2007:
The Golden Age in Palestine Reality, Reflections, and Aspirations
By Nora Kort
Ageing begins with day one in a person’s life. In the Palestinian areas where conflicts, civil unrest, and insecurity prevail and financial resources are scarce, ageing is of grave concern to the majority of people who dread the day of retirement for the agony and dependency it brings. In the absence of basic health and social services and in circumstances where the elderly live alone and have no children, kin, or safety net, the situation is by far worse. With the great socio-political and economic challenges and the rapid change in values and traditions, the elderly no longer enjoy the status they had in the past. They have lost their key community roles and are no longer at the top of the social pyramid. Instead they have become marginalized and often forgotten; they live with the growing fear of disability, sickness, and isolation.
Many Palestinians, however, are convinced that the elderly are the precious living memory of the nation. They are the ones with knowledge and history. They have mastered crafts and skills that they willingly and generously transmit to the new generations. They are the ones to ensure the psychological and pedagogical continuity of the nation and are the depositories of spirituality and faith. The elderly are the teachers, peacemakers, and mediators who provide sociological balance to the community and society at large.
Palestine is renowned for being the country of children and youth. However, the elderly comprise 3-4 percent of the total population of approximately 3.5 million, reaching almost 7 percent in places such as the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In search of peace, freedom, and employment, the young breadwinners emigrate and leave behind the frail elderly members of their families to face the harsh reality of old age and life under occupation.
As a humanist who has a soft spot in my heart for the elderly due to personal family experiences, I have tried to implement several community projects to improve the living conditions, services, and quality of life for the elderly. I have participated in surveys and research, and all affirmed that the Palestinian elderly are not yet a priority in the eyes of either Palestinian organizations or the international aid agencies that operate in the country. Even within Palestinian labour law, provisions for the elderly remain to be tackled. Insufficient resources have led to insufficient and inadequate health and social services for all segments of the population, particularly now with the continued humanitarian crisis after seven years of the second Intifada. The apparently poor health status and associated disabilities of the Palestinian elderly are made worse by the lack of social security and adequate national health insurance, which make accessibility to health services more difficult. The lack of primary, secondary, and tertiary health care that is geared specifically to the elderly and the lack of specialized personnel and professionals in geriatrics and gerontology contribute directly to the deteriorating health status of the elderly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Despite the relentless efforts by some leading Palestinian organizations such as ATTA-Aid to the Aged (to which I belong) – which was established in 1990 in order to raise community awareness concerning the rights and needs of the elderly – and the significant improvements achieved thus far, there remain limited public awareness and adverse social consciousness concerning the meaning of ageing as it intertwines with state policy.
All the above – coupled with insufficient resources, poorly distributed health services, and lack of coordination among the 17 non-governmental organizations that provide services for the elderly (mainly concentrated in Jerusalem and the central region of the West Bank) – are among the major factors that influence the availability of services. A continuous state of emergency and political volatility, as well as overdependence on a disintegrating traditional family support system have been the norm and have contributed to the inadequate and poorly distributed services. Unless such issues are tackled, no appreciable changes to the quality of life of elderly Palestinians will occur.
The Palestinian elderly are entitled to live decently and with dignity. They have rights and deserve to be loved and cared for. They constantly appeal to our feelings of love and care, patience and indulgence. Let us all join forces, individuals and institutions alike, to assist the elderly to live in peace, grace, and stability. Let us assist them to overcome the pains and fears of the years and live contented lives. The recipe is tenderness, love, and care. I call on all readers, both Palestinians and internationals, to think about the Palestinian elderly and reach out to them.
Nora Kort’s background is in social and community work. She is presently the chairperson of ATTA – Aid to the Aged, a Palestinian non-governmental organization that provides holistic integrated geriatric and gerontology services in the Palestinian areas. In addition, she is the country director of International Orthodox Christian Charities and a member of a number of other local organizations that focus on the building of civil society.