A lifeline to those living on the edge: MAP’s mobile clinic for threatened Hebron communities

Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, more than 60 per cent of the West Bank has been designated ‘Area C’, where Israel retains civil and military control, including over law enforcement, planning and construction. Most of Area C has been allocated for the benefit of Israeli settlements or the Israeli military, at the expense of the Palestinian communities who have long lived there.

Israel’s policies in Area C impede the development of adequate housing, infrastructure and livelihoods in Palestinian communities, with significant consequences for the entire West Bank population and its economy. Palestinian structures built without permits are regularly served with demolition orders, creating chronic uncertainty and threat amounting to a coercive environment encouraging people to leave these areas.

The village of Beren, east of the southern city of Hebron, is one such Area C community. During a recent visit from the Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)-supported mobile clinic run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), Duaa Burqan, one of its 600 villagers, described how these challenges affect their daily lives. Duaa is a mother of five children and pregnant with her sixth. She is the wife of the head of the village council, Farid Burqan.

"This makes a constant paradox. Home should be where you feel most secure, but for us in Beren it is what we may lose at any moment."

“We live around 20 km away from Hebron city, but it feels like we live in the middle of nowhere,” Duaa told MAP. “A few years ago, a donor provided us with solar panels so we can enjoy some electricity for light bulbs or a small refrigerator. However we have no roads, no grocery store, no public transportation, and no health clinic. And above all, all our houses are in Area C, and were built without a permit, and are under the constant threat of being demolished.”

“I love my house, but we have no option of expanding it, refining it, or to make any changes on it, as it could be demolished at any moment,” continued Duaa. “This makes me live under constant fear of being homeless. Where will we live? What will happen if our house was demolished? This makes a constant paradox. Home should be where you feel most secure, but for us in Beren it is what we may lose at any moment."

Farid said that almost 20 structures, including houses, are under the threat of being demolished in Beren.

The UN reports that there are about 356,000 Israelis residing in 135 settlements and some 100 settlement ‘outposts’ established in Area C. All violate international law, while the settlement ‘outposts’ are also considered illegal under Israeli law. The planning and zoning regime applied by the Israeli authorities, including the ways in which public land is allocated, makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in most of Area C. Even basic residential and livelihood structures, such as a tent or a fence, require a building permit.

As she is pregnant, Duaa needs to visit the doctor monthly, but the only specialised clinic is in Hebron, and the only way is by taxi. “It is extremely expensive to go every month to Hebron for a regular checkup, and many taxis refuse to drive to Beren as the roads are not paved,” Duaa told MAP. “It is not easy to be pregnant in a place where the nearest health clinic is a 40 NIS (£9 GBP) taxi ride away. Moreover, a lot of emergencies happen in our community due to snake and scorpion bites, and it is always a challenge for the person to reach the hospital on time.”

With no local healthcare infrastructure or public transport in these areas, mobile clinics such as the one provided by PMRS with the support of MAP are a literal lifeline to communities like Beren. The mobile clinic team consist of a general practitioner, lab technician, two health workers, driver and rehabilitation specialist, who serve at least 2,736 people living in six isolated communities.

The PMRS mobile clinic provides community members like Duaa with weekly access to essential health services and builds local knowledge and skills to help address local health problems. Examinations are carried out by a doctor and patients are provided with prescriptions where necessary. The clinic also screens women like Duaa for breast cancer and performs laboratory test for comprehensive diagnoses. If a patient requires further care, the team can make referrals to nearby hospitals or health centres. For children, those at nursey or in their first year at school receive yearly examinations and older students in Grades 5, 7 and 10 are provided with eyes tests.

Another important part of the mobile clinic’s current work is providing community members with masks and disinfectants as well as awareness raising sessions on COVID-19 and the importance of preventative measures to restrict further transmission.

A donation today can help MAP continue to provide these essential services to Palestinian communities like Beren.

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