Dorothy Finlay: Palestinian life in occupied territories not as bad now

The sun sets over Gaza City. Photo / AP
The sun sets over Gaza City. Photo / AP

• Dorothy Finlay NZRN, BSN, M St John (2002) lived In Jerusalem and Gaza between the years 1985-2013 as a nurse working with Palestinians in Jerusalem, Gaza and Bethlehem is also an Arabic speaker.

I can understand Dr Robin Briant's anger at the destruction of Palestinian buildings during the time of her service with Medecins sans Frontieres in Jenin and Gaza. I too would be very upset if I did not understand the situation in the Palestinian and Gaza authority areas during the years 2003-2004 when Dr Briant describes her experience.

However, the situation now is very different, and certainly less violent, from when Dr Briant was there 13 years ago. In the years 2001-2004 over 1000 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks.

Exaggeration of what was going on at that time was common. Another New Zealander, made a film, toured here, which included the allegation of the "Jenin massacre" of 500 or more civilians.

All the later, rigorous investigations (by the UN, Human Rights Watch etc) came up with the number of Palestinian deaths as about 50, of whom half were fighters.

During those years where the main destructive force was the suicide bomber, Israel did use the destruction of homes belonging to the suicide bombers and their families as a non-lethal way to punish the bombers' families. The bombs where detonated at checkpoints aiming to kill as many Israeli soldiers as possible.

The Israel Defence Force checked everyone going through checkpoints due to the tactics of many Palestinians who transported terrorists, weapons, and bombs in vehicles with government labels who normally had a free pass, or ambulances. For this reason there were delays and discomfort for many ordinary Palestinians.

I have passed through the checkpoints between Bethlehem, Hebron, Judean hills near Beit Shemesh, through Nabulus check points, Tul Karim, Jericho to name a few and also many times through the Erez crossing into Gaza and from Rafah into the Sinai. At no time was I mistreated and most people recognised that checkpoints are normal procedure when travelling from one country to another.

In my 12 years plus of living and working with the Order of St John Eye Hospital and teaching in Bethlehem University training nurses, I must state that while patients came for treatment and they did have long waits at checkpoints, they were rarely turned back and we saw and treated thousands from Jenin and Samaria. During this time I also nursed for two years in Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Centre, caring for the Arab children and their parents.

The many checkpoints of earlier years have been reduced to 27 permanently manned checkpoints in the West Bank, according to the non-government organisation B'Tselem. To equate the situation today with the height of the Intifada war is unfair and unbalanced. (There are another 26 permanent checkpoints at the crossing points between the Palestinian Authority territory and that recognised as Israel.)

A current situation where destruction of buildings has been suggested as a punishment is about to occur in Jebal Mukubbir, the enclave of East Jerusalem from where came the truck driver who mowed down and killed four Israeli soldiers and injured 17 soldiers on Sunday, January 8. This home has been a centre of hatred of Israel and yet they receive all the benefits of Israeli ID.

Dr Briant can be understood for her sympathy for the Palestinians in Jenin and Gaza and I too can feel for these people, as I did when working to heal them. But I see the Palestinian Authority as bearing the blame for the perceived hardships suffered by Palestinian citizens.

Houses are indeed necessary for people but so is security and safety for all.

- NZ Herald

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