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‘Israeli doctors to train Bil’in protesters in first aid at site of disputed security fence’

Ilana Strauss | The Jerusalem Post

5 July 2009

Physicians for Human Rights will be offering a first aid course on July 11 near the security barrier at the West Bank village of Bil’in for protesters to help them deal with injuries they incur in almost weekly confrontations with what the group’s doctors call an aggressive Israeli occupation.

“In a way, they are going to risk themselves,” said Ron Yaron, director of the international group’s occupied territories department, who explained the need for medical assistance in the West Bank.

“There are medical fields that are not available in the West Bank both due to Israeli restrictions and the entry of goods and medical equipment,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

The Israeli government limits the number of medical personnel who can travel between Israel and the West Bank, he said. Hospitals have to limit the number of workers they hire based on government quotas and medical supplies are also limited. According to Yaron, this “causes many delays” and “patients cannot reach hospitals on time.”

The Palestinian Authority has “not able to provide adequate health care to its residents,” he added. “The health care system still relies on external medical services.”

Yaron explained that the doctors involved in the training hope to provide basic skills in first aid for the protesters so they can “deal with the injuries that they face.”

Well-known Israeli doctors, including Rafi Walden, vascular surgery expert and board member of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, have been involved in the event. Many other highly skilled doctors will be teaching the course.

In addition to providing medical training, Physicians for Human Rights will also be working on a mobile clinic to treat patients who cannot reach hospitals in time. Other Israeli citizens will come to the area to provide medical care for the population.

The first aid course is as political a move as it is a medical one. One of its aims is to show solidarity with the protesters against the Israeli occupancy of the West Bank. As Yaron puts it, “People are wounded by the Israeli army and its use of weapons in an illegal way” on a weekly basis. The aim of the training is first an act of solidarity with the people who fight against the occupation and the building of the wall,” said Yaron.

Professor Zvi Bentwitch, a Physicians for Human Right board member who will be helping out at the event, agrees with Yaron, describing the protests as a “just cause.” Protesters come every week to protest at the Bil’in wall, which has also seen border policemen and other security personnel injured by rock-throwing Palestinians and their supporters.

The training is not intended for the general public, with only protesters – 20 Israelis and 20 Palestinians – allowed to take the course.

Yaron believes that the main problem surrounding medical care is rooted in recent history. “Israel didn’t develop the Palestinian system at all,” he explained. “Israel should bear responsibility [to help Palestinians].”

Bentwitch sees the first-aid course as a positive step in Israeli-Palestinian relations and considers it a “very positive bridge to peace between Palestinians and Israel.”

“I think that even protesters, if they get hurt, should get proper medical treatment,” said Bentwitch.

While he agrees with the Palestinian cause, he emphasizes that his principle focus is helping those in need. “We are doctors and don’t see any differences in gender, religion, or belief,” he explained. “It is one small contribution towards a major goal,” he said. “As a doctor, I am proud to help.”