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May 21, 2001
Interview With Dr. Mustafa Abdul Shafi* In Gaza



Interview With Dr. Mustafa Abdul Shafi* In Gaza

View interivew in full here: Middle East News Online
By Middle East News Online Reporter
Posted Thursday May 17, 2001

View interivew in full here: www.middleeastwire.com/commentary/stories/20010517_7_meno.shtml

The outbreak of violence in September 2000, following a provocative visit by now Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon to one of Islam's holiest shrines in Jerusalem has crippled many aspects in Palestinian life. Among these affected sectors is the medical establishment which was hit severely due to the mounting casualties and the Israeli blockade.

To discuss the magnitude of this tragedy and its affects on Palestinians, Middle East News Online (MENO) interviewed Dr. Mustafa Abdul-Shafi, one of Palestine's most well known and respected figures in the medical field. (Please learn more about Dr. Abdul-Shafi below.)

I: The Ailing Medical Establishment:

A: The Gaza Strip:

"Due to the siege and disproportionate Israeli military response, the Palestinian medical establishment was adversely affected.

"Emergency centers and hospitals in Gaza and the West Bank were suddenly swamped with casualties. Health workers had to work almost around the clock in order to cope.

Siege and impediment to free access made matters much worse. Movement from north to south in the Gaza Strip, for instance, free and easy before the Uprising, became almost impossible only days after the start of the Intifada; stringent Israeli measures made life almost impossible. A car trip from Gaza to Rafah which ordinarily took a maximum of 90 minutes became a journey of several hours.

Sometimes travelers were turned back at gun-point. Some patients being carried to hospital with serious injuries died while waiting for permission to pass through. There was no way to convince the Israelis to soften their attitude.

The Ministry of Health had to act quickly. A highly responsible health official informed me that, in the Gaza Strip, several emergency centers were set up; an emergency hospital was established in Rafah in the far south and another in Deir El-Balah in the middle. A third one in Beit Lahya in the north is under construction. These new facilities, in addition to the European Hospital in the south and the Shifa and other hospitals in Gaza, helped to remedy that desperate situation. Such NGO hospitals as the Ahli in Gaza, Salaam in Khan Younis and Awda to the north of Jabalya have also helped in sharing the work load."

B: the West Bank:

"The same problem was met in the West Bank, on a larger scale. An emergency hospital was established in the city of Qalqilya in a municipal building, another hospital in Salfit and a third one in the city of Ramallah. The last is the Sheikh Zayed Hospital. Emergency centers were created in Za'atara, Beit Fajjar and Houssan. In the Palestinian Authority (PA) areas the Government hospitals contributed 2,200 beds and NGO hospitals 1,800 beds, making a total of 4,000 beds.

II: War Against the Environment:

"Sanitation activity was greatly impeded; the free movement of health-workers was seriously interfered with, threatening the outbreak of serious health hazards which luckily didn't happen. Inoculation campaigns were also interfered with; health workers' pleas and explanation at checkpoints fell on deaf ears.

The environment was fouled up, not only by the excessive use of tear gas and other, possibly toxic, gases; Israeli sewage, by accident or design, inundated certain adjoining areas of the Gaza Strip with nobody around to talk or complain to. Municipal garbage trucks carrying waste to be dumped in designated locations were prevented from reaching their destination; they were turned back with their loads."

III: Hurt by World's Apathy:

"The Palestinians are indeed sorry and traumatized by the obvious world apathy regarding their plight."

View interivew in full here: www.middleeastwire.com/commentary/stories/20010517_7_meno.shtml

* Dr. Mustafa Abdul-Shafi (September 1921) is one of the most respected Arab doctors, whose achievements in the Palestinian medical field and insightful contributions have earned him much deserved respect and admiration. Before his recent retirement, he was the head of the department of Surgery at the Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem. + 1940-1946, he studied medicine at the American University of Beirut. Received M.D. in 1946. + Back to Gaza to endure the difficulties and turmoil that preceded and followed the creation of Israel in 1948. + Managed to go to Connecticut, US to have formal training in surgery. + Back to Gaza, 1956. + Witnessed and survived the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, November, 1956- March, 1957. + 1957-1967: engaged in unsatisfying medical practice in Gaza, in addition to being "pushed" into participating in several political conferences that took 'him' to different parts of the world including a stint at the UN General Assembly at the end of 1961. + 1962: passed the final part of the American Board of Surgery exam. and awarded the specialist's certificate. + June, 1967, while taking part in an emergency pan-Arab medical conference, Gaza was occupied by Israel. Could not go back to Gaza. + July, 1967, managed to go to Kuwait as a refugee where he worked for the Kuwait Ministry of Health. Took the ladder up the hard way until, in 1981, he went back home to head the department of Surgery at the Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem, the most prominent Arab medical institution in Palestine. He told Middle East News Online, "I had left Gaza to the United States in the early 1950's with the intention of obtaining formal training in surgery. After I had finished I decided to return to Gaza, to live, work and die there. I did that despite the fact that I received a very attractive offer. I decided to go back home out of conviction; it was not only the nostalgia and longing to see my hometown and friends; more importantly I asked myself a question: What if every young man who came from that part of the world, and after gaining valuable qualifications, decided to stay in America; who would serve the country and help in its development?"