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Health and Human Rights in Palestine

April 2009


Today I attended a panel at Harvard featuring authors of the Lancet Special Series Health in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. They discussed and suggested reasons for the rapidly deteriorating health of those living in Gaza and the West Bank, including a lack of access to food and medicine. These vital resources remain blocked by obstacles such as the Wall in the West Bank and inaccessible borders in Gaza. Panelist Mitchell Plitnick, the U.S. director of B’Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) stressed that legitimate security concerns must be in balance with respect for human rights and international law.   

Grassroots International supports the human right to health by sending critical material (medical) aid to our partner the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) for distribution in their network of clinics, including moving medical vans in Gaza and the West Bank. PMRS is the largest non-governmental healthcare agency in Palestine. Our latest shipment of medicine and medical equipment is currently in route to Gaza after having been delayed in port for nearly three months by Israeli authorities, allegedly for security reasons. In Gaza, especially after injuries suffered during the recent Israeli military campaign, these medical supplies are a lifeline to the people.  

Gaza’s pharmacies are almost totally empty. I witnessed this reality first hand last month when I stopped by a pharmacy in Gaza City with Palestinian friends and a fellow international who was not feeling well. The pharmacist noted that even some of the most basic medicines and supplies have now been restricted because they are perceived as a security threat. Networks of international and local organizations (such as Grassroots International’s work with PMRS) are often able to deliver supplies that would not otherwise be available. On a side note, the pharmacist refused payment for the medicine we picked up. He said that our presence during these difficult times was “more than enough.” It was just one of the many acts of generosity that I observed while in Gaza as people organize to defend their rights such as the right to health. 

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