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Sumood

Rasha Kaloti

By Rasha Kaloti

Life in the Desert Under Conflict:
The Health of Bedouins in Palestine

Image of Khan Al Ahmar, Palestine, taken by Rasha Kaloti

During my childhood, I always passed by these sandy hills during car rides from Jerusalem to Jericho for weekly family gatherings in the winter season. I remember how much I enjoyed gazing at the Bedouins and their tents, watching from afar how they gather around fires in groups, and enjoying the scene of shepherds walking their sheep. I was always wondering: how can our lives be so different when we live only 15 minutes away?

 

I had a closer encounter in 2018, when I joined a non-governmental organisation that supported mobile clinic visits to Bedouin communities, among other projects. I always enjoyed visiting and talking to community members about their health and health needs during these field visits. I also learnt more about the Bedouin culture, and have always admired their humbleness, generosity, wittiness, and resistance in the face of injustice.

 

I no longer work with the same organisation, but still enjoy visiting the communities, and like to support the local women’s wool needle-felting project. A few weeks ago, I visited ‘Um Saeed’ (name changed for privacy) in the Khan Al Ahmar area, to ask her about the health situation in her community.

Social & Political Situation

Area C, which represents 60% of the West Bank in Palestine, is where Israel maintains full military and civil control. In this area, Israel bans the 180,000-300,000 Palestinian residents from constructing infrastructure and buildings, even for housing, health, education, or agriculture.1 Most Palestinians living there have no access to regular water or electricity.2

 

The community living in Khan Al Ahmar is one of many communities in Area C facing threats of forced expulsion by Israel. This expulsion enforces an ongoing plan to expand nearby illegal (under international law) Israeli settlements.3 As a result, native Bedouin communities are facing violence from Israeli settlers and military, and destruction of their crops and buildings.2 This in turn results in increased threats to their traditional ways of earning a living and accessing food, through herding. Most Bedouins are facing poverty and about 80% are food insecure.4

Healthcare Services

(Based on a short interview with Um Saeed)


Q- How do you access healthcare services nowadays?

 

  • We receive basic healthcare services through mobile clinic visits twice a month. A general practitioner visits us, but no specialised doctors like a women doctor’s or a dentist. These visits have not been consistent over the past few years, they are sometimes interrupted due to underfunding.

 

Q- What do you do if you need specialised services?

 

  • We go to another city, either to Jerusalem or Jericho, which are both difficult to reach. They are far away, and most community members don’t have cars. Only one family in our community has a car, which is not enough for all of us.

 

  • In cases of emergency, it is difficult to transfer the patient to hospital, and ambulances aren’t able to come here due to the sandy and rocky terrains. There have been cases when women could not reach hospitals for delivery, and had to deliver their babies in the tents, on the way to hospitals, or at military checkpoints.

 

Q- How has the healthcare situation here been during the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

  • It has been difficult. Mobile clinics stopped visiting us for many months at the start of the pandemic, as a result of lockdowns and underfunding. Chronic disease patients like myself were not receiving their regular medications and had to go to a faraway clinic or hospital to purchase it at my own cost.

 

Q- Were you provided with any outreach, such as COVID-19 testing or hygiene kits?

 

  • No, we were never tested for COVID-19 by mobile teams. We were provided with two educational sessions on COVID-19, its symptoms, and prevention. We were told that whoever suspects they are infected should go to the nearest clinic or hospital to be tested.

 

  • We used to receive hygiene kits (which include tissues, cleaning products, diapers, feminine products, and other household items) a couple of years ago, but since the start of the pandemic, we are no longer receiving these.

Conclusion

Um Saeed is one of thousands facing the same threats every day. It is evident that political and social factors are key determinants of the Bedouin population’s health in Palestine. Political constraints for development, threats of displacement, lack of work opportunities and poverty all aggravate the Bedouin’s inability to access healthcare.

 

The solidarity of international organisations and states against the ethnic cleansing of native populations in Palestine and elsewhere in the world is an essential advocacy effort to end this injustice. Without challenging the current political practices, these Bedouins will remain unable to practice their right to health and right to existence.

References

  1. Planning and Building. 2017. https://www.btselem.org/planning_and_building Accessed: 17 December 2021.

  2. WHO visits communities in Area C to demonstrate support. 2018. http://www.emro.who.int/opt/news/who-visits-communities-in-area-c-to-demonstrate-support-april-2018.html Accessed 17 December 2021.

  3. Israel plans to expel Bedouin communities from Area C, West Bank. 2011. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CESCR/Shared%20Documents/ISR/INT_CESCR_NGO_ISR_47_9145_E.pdf Accessed 18 December 2021.

  4. Bedouin Factsheet. 2011 https://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/bedouin-factsheet. Accessed 21 December 2021.

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