In the last week of June, a small delegation from Act Palestine Forum visited Gaza, among them George and Damaris from the DSPR Central Office. It was a warm reunion with colleagues in the besieged Gaza Strip. The monthly Act Palestine Forum meeting was held, on the occasion of the visit, from Gaza. From what one sees, the majority of the population lives in poverty. Add to this, the recurrent escalations that sow destruction and further desolation on the Gaza people and their habitat.
The latest escalation in May resulted in scores killed, including 7 children and four women, and 14 civilians, with 147 people wounded. 3,000 households were adversely affected, either because of destruction or partial damage to homes or because their neighbourhood was no longer livable. Medical supplies were also affected as the Gaza Strip remained hermetically closed during the escalation. Medical care for cancer patients is generally complex in Gaza. Patients, with one accompaniment, usually travel to Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem to receive needed, and at times, urgent treatment. During escalations, cancer patients are prohibited from travelling. At the same time, on 'normal' days they need a special permit from the Israeli military authorities to enable them and an accompaniment to travel to Augusta Victoria Hospital. Sometimes, these permits are denied on the pretext of "security reasons."
A variety of restrictions, such as fishing constraints and permits for food exports, add to the woes of the Gaza people. Potable water is less and less available as bacteria, salt and contamination elements are found in the water. Water is the source of life and of death. While the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in the West Bank is US$4,120, in Gaza it is only US$1,000. Israel's GDP per Capita, by comparison, reached an all-high US$42,594 in 2023. Unemployment, especially among Gaza youth, is very high, touching one out of two young people. Yet, knowledgeable sources have pointed out the great potential of youth that exists in the Gaza Strip in fields like IT, subcontracting for international companies and other business ventures, were it not for the hermetic siege on the Gaza Strip and its people.
There are still houses from the 2014 war that have not been rebuilt, and people are still waiting for reconstruction and funds. One picks up the vibes of the people in Gaza and gets impressed with their love for life, peace, and a stable environment for their families. The most important issue is the economic situation. This will not improve without a vision for peace, especially by the Israeli political body and government. The various statements coming out of some Israeli politicians point to their refusal to allow the establishment of a Palestinian State. Without such a commitment from the Israeli government, the current situation will continue to the detriment of all, particularly the Gaza population. Certainly, there is a need by all parties, in Palestine and Israel, to go forward towards peace and eventual resolution of the long-standing conflict. Given, however, that the Israeli government, representing the more powerful party to the conflict, refuses to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians to a state of their own, the only alternative that remains is to manage the conflict and to go on indefinitely with the current miserable situation of control and occupation.
The Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza is the oldest and only Christian hospital in Gaza and was founded in 1882. During the Ottoman era, the hospital had mainly Christian patients. Now there are only 1,200 Christians left out of total of 2 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, the hospital is open to all so expectedly 99 per cent of the patients are Muslims. The hospital is run by Dr Suhaila Tarazi and Dr Maher Ayyad. With an unemployment rate of over 44 per cent in the Gaza Strip, the hospital tries to provide many job opportunities for Doctors, Nurses, Nutritionists, Cleaners, Gardeners etc. The hospital also serves as the only training centre for minimally invasive surgeries. When the centre was established, the goal was to train 100 surgeons, now over 600 surgeons have been trained in the centre. The hospital serves over 45,500 patients a year. The good relations that the hospital has established with all in Gaza is a plus and it helps when emergencies, such as at times of military escalation, scores of people arrive for urgent treatments. One of the main challenges is the shortage of funds. with the current overall dwindling of funds, and attention placed elsewhere, the Ahli Hospital, as well as Civil Society and Church Related Organizations are feeling the constraints for their service to the population. Ahli Hospital was forced, because of the funding situation, to reduce the medical services offered to the poor of Gaza. Given the needs across the Gaza Strip and the fact that more than 16.000 patients are waiting for surgeries, support is essential not only in the medical field but also in the social, rehabilitative, occupational and family services.
Dr Maher Ayyad looks after one of the breast cancer patients. While the 5-year survival rate in Israel is 95%, in Gaza it is a maximum of 50%. There is no radiation therapy in the hospital. Most of the patients with breast cancer need radiotherapy. Young women sometimes come with newly discovered small tumours. The available drug medication would simply remove the small tumour with a safety area around the tumour. After surgery or a mastectomy, patients are then transferred to government chemotherapy. But this is usually not done completely. The effect of the drug, nonetheless, is of short duration and accordingly, any complications would need different chemotherapy. With the limited means and methods available to treat this cancer, many patients, who otherwise could be saved, succumb to the disease.
The Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem will open an outreach small clinic in September in partnership with Ahli Arab Hospital, to provide chemotherapy and proper diagnostic service for cancer patients. This will help many patients who are denied permits to travel out of Gaza to receive the needed treatment in East Jerusalem. Getting a permit for medical reasons can take long months to process and for some of the patients, it is often too late.