Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Why should I ask someone for permission to pray?"

July 1

Left: A small child at the al-Jalajl clinic.

I went with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society mobile clinic to a village called al-Jalajl today.

Today two doctors were on the clinic, one male and one female. This is how they usually staff their mobile clinics, but when we went to al-Eddesa on June 25 the female doctor was giving a breastfeeding education workshop, so it was just Dr. Ibrihim and the nurses.
The female doctor is a 25-year-old pediatrician and ob/gyn named Nisreen; she is everything that is good about human beings: religious but without a hint of closed-mindedness, intelligent, insightful, well educated, capable, curious, thoughtful, nationalistic, polite but assertive, motherly, etc. She’s also strikingly beautiful, the way you expect a princess to be. Her English is nearly flawless and her accent makes her even more appealing. She’s married to a Palestinian whose mother is Italian, and they have a beautiful two-month old baby named Sara, whose picture she had on her phone.

Before leaving, Dr. Nisreen and I were talking to each other; we had met before but hadn’t spoken much. She told me she was born in Jordan, and so was a Jordanian citizen with a Jordanian passport. She recently married a Palestinian from the West Bank, and afterwards went to Amman to have her passport renewed. The Jordanian government refused to renew it on the grounds that she had married a Palestinian, leaving her stateless. She also told me that she has never once been to Jerusalem or to the al-Aksa mosque to pray, even when she studied at Abu Dis Medical College (Abu Dis is a large village just east of Jerusalem). "I think maybe I could go", she said, meaning if she tried the Israelis might not stop her, "but I don't want to be humiliated. Why should I ask someone for permission to pray?"

Dr. Nisreen’s father was a teacher and businessman in Kuwait; quite a few Palestinian refugees moved to the gulf oil sheikdoms to work, and their remittances help keep the territories alive. She was very young when Hussein invaded Kuwait (with his American-made army), but she remembers Iraqi soldiers and tanks moving on the streets. After the US invasion most of the Palestinians in Kuwait were thrown out; the US reinstated Kuwait’s dictator, who was upset that the PLO had voiced its support for Hussein.

Dr. Nisreen’s family lost everything when they were expelled from Kuwait. “I think in the wars,” she said, “it is always the Palestinians who suffer the most. I think because we have no one to back us up," she said, laughing a bit. The sentiment is genuine and the observation true.

We talked about Palestinian history for a little while; at one point she asked “How is the media in the US? People know what is happening here?” I had to say no, but told her that there are alternative media that are trying to educate people on the simple facts that are hidden from them. "Are they having success?" I had to say no again, but said that we are showing signs of progress. When I told her the propaganda in the US is scaling new peaks of lunacy - I mentioned Alan Dershowitz specifically - she said this is good, since it proves that these people are getting desperate.

We headed out to al-Jalajl in the clinic and saw patients until about 2 pm. A little less than half of the children who came in showed signs of malnutrition: anemia and vitamin deficiencies are very common problems here. Blood hemoglobin is one of the few things they can test on the clinic: every single person we tested had a hemoglobin count under 13. Failure to thrive is another serious issue for children, as are parasites from untreated water. More than one family told us they had eaten nothing but tea and bread last month. About half of the children had shoes.

Once the waiting room was empty I sat around with Dr. Ibrihim, Ismail (the guy who drives the clinic) and Dr. Nisreen and we talked about the economy in the US, the Iraq war and the creation of the State of Israel. Ismail knows a great deal about the geography of Palestine and Israel, I think he used to work and live in Jerusalem as an ambulance driver. He kept asking me and Dr. Ibrihim if we knew the name of the Arab village this or that Israeli town is built on top of; we almost always no. Dr. Nisreen interjected – quietly, as though she was talking to herself – and said, “They occupied our lands. But they created beautiful cities.” It’s amazing that people in this occupied and dismembered nation can still recognize their tormentors as human beings.

We left al-Jalajl and dropped Dr. Nisreen at her village. The dirt road leading into the village was blocked by three huge stones, and an army jeep was standing at the entrance.