Who’s to blame for the Palestinians’ health crisis?

What this question implies, of course, is that there indeed is a health crisis in the Palestinian territories. And perhaps that is the most important lesson to come out of this exchange in the soon-to-be published June 14th issue of the New York Review of Books.

(The referenced article stems from a controversial piece published in the NYRB by Richard Horton. Horton’s the highly visible British physician and editor of the Lancet, a leading British medical journal made (in)famous for its death toll estimate in the current Iraq war, which placed the number around 600,000 Iraqi civilians killed. The United Nations, relied on statistics taken from Iraq’s health ministry as of January 2007, and placed the number at 34,000. Obvousily, there are politics involved.)

Back to the exchange: it positions Israel’s P.R. guy, Yair Amikam, from their Ministry of Health against Horton, who essentially re-iterates the points he made in his original article.

(An aside: Horton’s on a publishing role…he also had a great review of Jerome Groopman’s well-recieved book “How Doctors Think” in the last issue of the NYRB. That makes three NYRB’s in a row!)

Again, I digress. Amikam hashes through the hard facts that Horton begrudgingly — barely still — concedes. Namely, the Palestinians have a health crisis (in other words, they have really bad medical care) because the Palestinian Authority doesn’t pay much attention to health care. The Israeli government provided medical aid for some 60,000 Palestinian last year (not much, though, when you consider there’s almost 4 million in Gaza and the West Bank). And, to top it off, the Palestinian Health Authority chose on its own to freeze contacts with the Israeli Ministry of Health when the P.A. promoted the second intifada in 2000.

Horton marshals some of his own distressing facts. After the Lebanon-based Hezbollah kidnapped Corporal Shalit on June 25, 2006 — and Hamas began launching Qassam rockets indiscriminately into Israel — the IDF killed over 300 children. (Speaking in general terms, Amikam calls the civilian casualities of the ’06 Hezbollah-Hamas war “errors.”) Horton cites Israel’s security fence and border restrictions as major obstacles to delivering basic medical supplies to Gaza and the West Bank.

He doesn’t acknowledge that well-guarded borders have saved thousands of Israeli lives, and have thwarted real terrorist threats.

On the health care realities, though, both stand on firm ground. Problem is — and nothing new here — neither author sees the shared responsibility for the problem. Israel’s security measures have begot serious hurdles to elementary Palestinian needs: health care, in this case. And wholly irresponsible, inept, and Janus-faced Palestinian governance has made a nasty situation worse.

Now, I don’t mean to call it even. In this exchange, Horton’s the loser.

He already had me skeptical with his politicization of medical crises with the absurdly high Iraq death count estimate, at 600,000+. (A simple mental guesstimate: 50 deaths per day X 350 days per year X 4 years = 70,000 deaths, roughly.)

Horton falls flat when he writes that Amikam “relies on the hope that most readers of The New York Review will not have visited Gaza and the West Bank.” True, probably.

But then this: “He trusts that non-Israeli and non-Palestinian readers will be skeptical of the deprivation and hardship that visitors repeatedly and consistently report.” False by so many accounts. The NYRB, plainly and unabashedly liberal in its politics, has readers who more often than not agree — or at least read through — its political slants.

I, for one, buy the fact that Palestinians due face a health crisis — and that’s just a part of it. But to then go on and say that, in effect, one can’t know the extent of the suffering in Gaza and the West Bank until one actually goes there, shows a real lack of faith in your readers, and, indeed, your own role as a writer. It brings to mind a recent talk I saw Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic give in New York where he shot down similar arguments made by a few Holocaust survivors.

If “we had to have been there,” what then of all subsequent attempts to understand it [Auschwitz, Hitler, Eichmann, et al.]? What’s the alternative? Disbelief? Forgetting?

You get the point.

So, Horton, if you think you’re going to win your case — and an important one — by aping your readers, sorry. Not happening. Give me the facts. I’ll take it from there.

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2 responses to “Who’s to blame for the Palestinians’ health crisis?

  1. give me the facts, baby

  2. Maty Herschthal

    you’re on the pulse…..stats!

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