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Palestinian Medical Relief Society

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 20.02.2009:

The Incredible Resilience of Doctors and Health Workers under Attack

The last few weeks have been a scene of horror, death, and intense suffering for the people in Gaza during the 22-day Israeli invasion and incessant bombardment from the air, sea, and land. The consequent inhumane situation is yet another example of Israeli efforts to break us Palestinians and our resilience through continuous occupation, which is manifested in a myriad of ways. History has shown that the Palestinian resistance cannot be broken no matter how impossible and hopeless the situation might seem. This was proven again in Gaza where Palestinians worked side by side with doctors in their relentless efforts to survive and save lives. Regardless of the near-impossible situation, we at Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) never lost hope, we never gave up, and we never lost sight of our core beliefs and goals. We never abandoned our vision of providing quality health care for all regardless of gender, age, religion, or ethnicity.

Since the beginning of the Israeli military offensive on 27 December, at least 1,300 Palestinians were killed (including at least 410 children and 104 women), and 5,300 injured (including 1,855 children and 795 women). Despite incessant efforts to do their work – protected under international humanitarian law – medical staff have been discriminately targeted. Thirteen medical personnel have been killed and 22 injured while on duty. The attacks have also severely damaged or destroyed at least 21 health facilities – including hospitals – and 16 ambulances in the Gaza Strip.

Under these circumstances, the medical professionals employed by the PMRS have been working tirelessly in their communities, at our clinics, and in the Gaza hospitals to try to help their fellow Gazans during this time of suffering. We have been joined in our efforts by hundreds of volunteers who have, to the best of their ability, also helped other organisations to distribute the much-needed aid, be it water, blankets, food, or medicines. The work of our staff has been made incredibly difficult not only because of the very high number of casualties and fatalities, but also due to the dangers posed by the continuous strikes, which have prevented both the injured and doctors from leaving their homes or shelters. The terrifying nature and intensity of the attacks have left a large number of people who need both physical and psychological help when the military operation is over. This is an emergency situation where food and medication is required immediately; but the shock and trauma experienced especially by children will need a long-term commitment to even begin to heal the wounds.

Through our holistic and comprehensive approach to improving the health of all Palestinians, PMRS sets a successful example of a health NGO that understands and addresses the socio-economic determinates of health. PMRS develops health models and protocols that can be, and have been, tested in the field and disseminated to public and NGO-sector institutions at the local, regional, and international levels, thereby providing a contribution to global health as a whole, especially to countries in ongoing and post-conflict situations and newly emerging states. PMRS uses the health situation in Palestine as an entry point to address the structural factors that lie at the heart of poor health. The PMRS vision is founded on an inherent belief in the importance of international solidarity and action in supporting people who live under terrible occupation and in bringing about appropriate solutions and a just and lasting peace.

PMRS’ crucial role in the field of health care, education, and community building necessitates active cooperation with other health care providers. As such it seeks to maintain the excellent working relations it has built with other health service providers and other organisations since its inception, including local and international NGOs, health and educational institutions, and various UN agencies. Simultaneously, PMRS maintains strong bonds with the international community, with which we try to build bridges across continents to advocate on behalf of the Palestinians.

The continuous struggle against the unjust results of the occupation should go hand in hand with continuous efforts for internal change and democracy, and above all, meeting the humanitarian needs of our people. Since PMRS’ inception we have overcome every constraint imposed on us. No matter how impossible and hopeless the situation might have seemed at the outset, we have never stopped searching for solutions, we have constantly improved our programmes, and we have achieved our goals by finding ways to creatively and effectively problem solve, thereby always prioritising and responding to the direct needs of our people.

Where we face walls, we will build bridges; we have done so in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future.

PMRS has an extensive network of physical and human resources throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. PMRS operates 80 Health Care Centres that provide preventative, curative, promotive, and rehabilitative services to more than 1,600,000 Palestinians in 490 communities; it employs 358 staff members and works with 40,000 volunteers.

This Week in Palestine

February 2009

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