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Trying to provide health care in Tubas

By Tom

At the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in Tubas we heard about the impact of the occupation, the checkpoints, and the road blocks on the ambulance staff. When we heard that ambulance staff had been made to walk on the bodies of dead people by the Israeli Army we didn’t want to believe it, but it was clearly true.

Tubas is a town of 24,000 people. It is in the west of Tubas region, which covers an area aproximately 24km accross and 28km north to south. Most of the Tubas region is in the Jordan Valley and only accessible by via checkpoints.

In 1999, the PRCS (an NGO) was set up in Tubas. They have the only ambulance in the area. A part-time ambulance from Jericho is stationed at Al Jifflik in the Jordan Valley from 8am-2pm each day. What happens if soembody needs an ambulance at any other time? To try and overcome this problem, they are training local volunteers who can set up ’spot centres’ if there is a major incident in their area.

The Tubas Red Crescent provides:

* Primary health care
* Mental healthcare
* Rehabilitation for adults and children with physical and learning disabililties
* A phyco-social project for children affected by armed conflict (funded by the EU)
* An ambulance

They never charge for service costs and charge as little as possible for medicines. Despite this, they are operating against the odds. They have constant problems of being held up at road blocks, with the ambulance often being stuck for hours. As if the army wanted to prove to us that this was true, when we left the area the next day, we saw them causually holding up and searching an ambulance at Huawa Checkpoint. I wanted to photograph this, but was warned that the army could use this as an excuse to close the checkpoint altogether.

So far this year, they have had to perform two births at checkpoints, and 3 people have died because an ambulance could not get to them.

They have to run a psycho social project specifically for the ambulance staff who continuously have to deal with traumatic situations. We were given the following examples:

* People have been injured by landmines left in the mountains by the Israeli army
* Tayasir school was attacked by the army, who fired bullets and rockets into the school
* Ambulances are fired at by the army
* On one occaision, the ambulance was on its way to see a sick man when they found the army there. it was dark and the army directed them where to walk – they found themselves walking on the bodies of people who had just been shot by the army.
* We met an ambulance man who told us about a time when he had been doing a long shift with nothing to eat. He stopped for something to eat, and the army informed him to eat his food off of the body of soembody they had just shot.

They have international volunteers working with their ambulances because they are deperately short of money and staff, and they believe that the presence of internationals can curtail some of the more extreme behaviour of the army.