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On Ambulances, Checkpoints, Health Care, and Peaceful Solutions
by Bernard Kabakow, M.D.
Ever since 1967, accusations have been made against Israel in regard to long delays for inspection of Palestinian ambulances at Israeli checkpoints and road barriers. But examples of Palestinian ambulances being used for other than sick patient transportation are well documented.
In January 2002, a Palestinian Red Cross employee carried out a suicide bombing on the main road to Jerusalem, killing an elderly Israeli and seriously wounding 150 people. On March 27, 2002, two suicide explosive belts were found hidden under a sick child in a Palestinian ambulance. A member of the International committee for the Red Cross witnessed the discovery, removal, and detonation of the explosives.
In May 2004, Ha’aretz reported police uncovering a network that smuggled Palestinian Authority officers into Israel in fake ambulances — including members of Yasser Arafat’s elite Force 17 personal protection unit. Police said the ring might also have smuggled terrorists into Israel using similar methods. The same issue of Ha’aretz reported police arresting a man suspected of posing as an ambulance driver and illegally bringing into Israel dozens of Palestinians disguised as “sick patients” hooked up to medical devices and presenting forged documents. A police probe also found that a driver detainee did not hold an ambulance driver’s license and the license plates of his vehicle were forged. Police raided an Azzuriyeh warehouse in which commercial vehicles were being transformed into ambulances. Police have also found that Palestinian Arabs in Gaza disguise ordinary vehicles as ambulances in order to transport terrorists into Israel.
Amnesty International reported in May 2004 that explosive materials were found in an ambulance of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. The International Committee of the Red Cross expressed shock and dismay at the reports of the explosives found.
During a sabbatical year in Israeli, while working in an Israeli hospital, I served as a consultant in the Arab hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus. I saw that, despite the millions of dollars given Arafat and the PLO from abroad, very little of this money went into health care. There are no first-rate hospitals or medical schools in the Arab territories. Patients requiring special treatment were transferred to Israeli hospitals. All six of the medical schools in Israel have Arab students, as do Israeli nursing and social work schools. Last year, over 100 Palestinian doctors interned at Israeli hospitals and Israel hosted 3,000 Palestinian doctors at various conferences in Israel. Recently, a Bedouin woman graduated from Ben Gurion University’s medical school and is now working as an obstetrician among her people.
Most doctors in Gaza much prefer to have consultations with Israeli physicians than with doctors from Egypt. A World Health Organization report in February 2012 disclosed that over 90 percent of Palestinian requests for medical treatment at Israeli hospitals were approved and carried out successfully. In February 2011, an Arab child in Gaza suffering from brain cancer was transferred to an Israeli hospital in Haifa. The malignant tumor was successfully removed and the child was given post-operative radiation and physical therapy. The children’s cardiac institute in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, accepts children from all over the world and has an excellent reputation in heart surgery. Most recently a 4-year-old Syrian child with a one-ventricle heart was operated on in Holon, with a complete and successful repair. Depending on the area in Israel, Arab patients constitute 15 to 45 percent of the in-hospital and clinic census. In every hospital, Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses work together sharing the patient load and duties. The Israel Civil Administration released a report in March, 2012 that Palestinians made 115,000 visits for examination and treatment in Israeli hospitals in 2011, a 13 percent increase compared to previous years. Five Arab patients received life-saving organ transplants in Israeli hospitals. This past year surgeons at Hadassah separated conjoined twins in utero. The babies had shared a placenta and major blood vessels. The mother was a 25-year-old from a Palestinian village, who was twenty weeks pregnant. The babies’ blood supply was separated using a laser device inserted into the womb.
A study in 2008 by the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership gave evidence for support and benefits from co-existence within Israel. Arab citizens, when asked to respond to the statement, “I would prefer to live in the state of Israel than any other country in the world,” 76.9 percent responded positively. The advantages of co-existence at this time for the Arabs would be to derive benefit from the Israeli health care system and higher employment rates in the disputed territories. Despite the calls for an economic boycott of Israel, more than 40,000 Palestinians have received permits to work in Israel, and 15,000 Palestinians continue to work in Jewish communities beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
Since 2003, no suicide bomber has successfully carried out a mission into Israel proper. The separation wall and the checkpoints have in large part prevented such missions. However, the suicide bombing attempts have persisted in large measure due to the educational system and parent indoctrination. Earlier this year in an interview on Hamas Al-Haqua TV channel, Umm Osama, wife of Hamas MP Khalel Al-Hayya, said that she, her husband, and her children all prayed that Allah would grant them martyrdom. She stated: “Women in Palestine play a great role in raising their children and in encouraging them to wage jihad for the sake of Allah. This is the most glorious thing a woman can do. The mother instills in her children the love of Jihad and martyrdom for the sake of Allah and Allah’s reward is paradise.” Article 8 of the Hamas charter reads in part, “Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.” As long as such beliefs persist, ambulance inspections, checkpoints and barriers will be necessary.
Dr. Bernard Kabakow is an 86-year-old Emeritus Clinical Professor of Medicine at Albert Einstein Medical College. He was co-chair of the Medical Ethics Committee of the UJA Federation and chair of the Medical Advisory Committee of the Workman’s Circle His late wife was a civil rights activist in Boston and helped integrate the Harvard Health System. Dr. Kabakow has taught at Tel Aviv University Medical School and Minsk University, and is on the board of Jewish Healthcare International, which he has helped, over the past 20 years, to send missions to Russia, Israel, and Ethiopia. Three of his six children live in Israel.