Monday, July 2, 2007

They're Just Following Orders

June 25

Left: One of the two mobile clinics the PMRS runs in the southern West Bank, outside the community center in Eddesa.

Today I went with the Palestinian Medical Relief Service to a small village five minutes outside of Hebron named Eddesa. When we got there the main road to the village was blocked and the soldiers in the sniper tower nearby wouldn't acknowledge our presence, so we had to go around the roadblock, which took half an hour.

When we got to the village we set up in some kind of community center. We laid a cloth down on a table, sat at another table in the same room and started seeing patients. The two nurses who came with us set up a pharmacy (meaning another table) for the drugs we'd brought with us and a lab for doing blood hemoglobin levels, blood sugar counts and a few other simple tests.

We continuously saw patients from about 9:30 am to about 1:30 pm. The doctor took a ten minute break to eat zatar and pita he’d brought with him. We probably spent about ten minutes per patient, on average. Often we saw a mother and several of her kids. I can only think of four males we saw between twelve and sixty years old, I’m curious why.

When we drove back the soldiers at the entrance to the road that was blocked told us we couldn't drive on the road because it was still blocked. We asked them to have the army open the road but they said they couldn't. The soldier was sympathetic and even apologetic, but still refused to even try opening the road for a clearly marked mobile clinic filled with two women and three men, one of them in his late fifties.

This raised an interesting point I hadn’t thought of until then. I always made a distinction in my mind between IDF soldiers who act professionally and understand what they’re doing here, versus those who act with wild abandon, beat and shoot people needlessly, etc. Both are present in large numbers in the occupation forces; I’m not sure which is more prevalent, and I’d venture to guess that the same soldier can be one way on Monday and another way on Wednesday, depending on what happened Tuesday.

But when it comes down to it, at least in cases like this, it makes little difference which soldier you get; after all, only the most zealous lover of violence will drag someone out of an ambulance or mobile clinic and beat or shoot him for no reason. There are some IDF soldiers who would do this, but they’re the bleeding edge of the occupation’s sadism.

So we got a polite soldier, but still, our freedom of movement was restricted. If we’d had a rude soldier, we’d have had our freedom of movement restricted just the same and might have been cursed at, no big difference. It comes down to the fact that these young men are following orders. They didn’t choose to close that gate, and they probably don’t give a damn whether it’s open or closed. They’d rather be in Tel Aviv looking for another eighteen-year-old to sleep with. Indeed, the soldier we spoke to seemed like he actually wanted to open the gate. Maybe he’s an aspiring doctor, who knows? But, he has his orders, and since he struck me as intelligent I’d venture to guess that he understands how pointless it would be to call his commander and say “can I open the gate for this medical vehicle?” He knows the road was blocked specifically in order to make these peoples’ lives more difficult. He doesn’t agree with it, but who is he to make policy?

On the way home we drove for some time on one of two parallel roads. Our road, the Palestinian road, was a broken-up piece of crap barely wide enough for one car; when two cars came towards each other they both had to slow down, go half-off the road (risking falling off the steep incline to our left), and then get back on. The parallel Jewish road was a flawless two-lane highway with lane markings, guardrails and hard shoulders.