The Galilee Society has recently established four permanent clinics in the Negev, another underdeveloped area in Israel with poor health care. The clinics were built in full consultation with the Ministry of Health and will also be turned over to the government.
To reach the many villages that still have no infirmaries, the Galilee Society maintains a mobile health clinic. The mobile clinic was one of the Societys first projects, and the Pontifical Mission was one of its first financial supporters. The fully equipped van is staffed by a local nurse and provides basic primary health care to hundreds of local Arabs, including Bedouin. Dr. Kanaaneh explains that the nurse has a double role:
We wanted young Bedouin girls, most of whom have few opportunities, to benefit from a positive role model. It is gratifying to see that more Bedouin girls now go to high school than ever before.
The mobile unit has been so successful in bringing basic care to isolated communities that Israels Health Ministry has agreed to assume full responsibility for continuing the service in several villages.
During its first months of operation, the mobile clinic sparked one of the Societys most impressive campaigns and helped put the Society at the center of a struggle for equal rights. The clinic was faced with an outbreak of hepatitis in several unrecognized villages. One child died and several more were hospitalized. The Galilee Society used the hepatitis outbreak to draw attention to the appalling conditions in these isolated, mostly Bedouin villages. (Until the creation of Israel, the Bedouin of Palestine were nomads.)
The Israeli government maintains that these communities are illegal, Dr. Kanaaneh reported. It refuses to grant them official municipal charters, making them ineligible for any form of government assistance. Their status is precarious. Excluded from the national water and electrical grids, these villages are the most backward and poverty-stricken in all of Israel.
Based on data gathered by its mobile clinic, the Galilee Society was able to show that the primary cause of the outbreak was the lack of clean water. In 1992, the Society took its case to the International Water Tribunal in the Netherlands, charging Israel with discrimination. The court decided in favor of the Galilee Society and ordered the Israeli government to supply water to the unrecognized villages as well as to settle the question of their legality. To date only four of the more than 70 illegal villages have been granted official status by the Israeli government; however, the Galilee Society sees this recognition as a first step.
The case was doubly significant in that it put the issue of water on Israels political agenda. Israels Labor Party has recently included an explicit water policy in its platform. With justifiable pride, Dr. Kanaaneh explains that during the last elections, Labor candidates spoke openly about the need to provide clean water to the Galilee. This represents a major political breakthrough. Finally, Israeli politicians are beginning to listen to the needs of our communities.
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Tags: Israel Health Care Poor/Poverty Water Arabs