Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Doctors try to heal patients -- and divisions

COOPERATION The Physicians for Human Rights group sends a contingent once a week to various places in the West Bank and Gaza to treat Palestinians without charge


Dr. Dani Schurr, an Israeli pediatrician, examines a Palestinian child at a makeshift volunteer clinic in Tawaneh, in the West Bank last month. A group of Israeli doctors has been sending a contingent once a week to the West Bank and Gaza to offer health care.


It was a routine examination, a lanky doctor checking a frightened boy's chest with a stethoscope, then showing him how to use an inhaler for the wheezing he suffers when playing too hard.

But the doctor was Israeli, the boy Palestinian and the exam took place in a dusty West Bank hill town in a schoolhouse converted for the day into a makeshift clinic.

A group of 650 Israeli doctors has been sending a contingent once a week to various places in the West Bank and Gaza to offer health care. The doctors say they want to show a gentler face of Israeli society after the violence of the last three years.

Khalid Moussa, a villager who visited the clinic to have his son's eyes checked, said the doctors' visits were a needed overture that he hoped would teach Israelis about Palestinian culture.

"If you antagonize me, I fight back," he said. "If you respect me and honor my existence, I'm willing to give you my last piece of bread to show you the same attitude."

The visits are also an example of the efforts by people on both sides of the conflict to keep up a conversation even as civilians and fighters on both sides are killed. Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost children in the conflict meet to share their grief and press for peace, and there are organized dialogues for teenagers.

Recently, residents of Mevasseret Zion, a Jerusalem suburb, and Beit Sourik, an adjacent Palestinian village, flew kites as a demonstration of the neighborly relations they say will be damaged by the barrier that Israel is building between them.

The doctors are members of Physicians for Human Rights, an organization started in 1983 that dissents from many Israeli policies and says Israel could do more to achieve a peace accord.

Although they regard the Palestinian doctors with respect, the

Israeli doctors also know that there are too few specialists in the West Bank and that the poor often find it hard to get to doctors and hospitals because of the Israeli checkpoints set up to curb militants' attacks.

The group offers its services free, and even some of the doctors taking part concede that their work here is more a gesture than anything else.

Dr. Dani Schurr, a 55-year-old pediatrician who normally works in a Jerusalem clinic, said he came out several times a year.

"I want to be able to say that in this time I didn't just read the newspapers, but I went through the barricades and I worked with the people," he said. "It's a way to show another face of an Israeli."

On a recent day, eight doctors and four paramedics left Jerusalem in four vans and traveled 45 minutes into West Bank territory near Hebron before they veered onto a dirt road up to this farming village of stone and mud hovels.

Two hundred villagers awaited them in a rough-and-tumble line along a schoolhouse terrace, mostly women in long dresses and head scarves carrying small children.

Schurr examined more than 30 children. There was a three-year-old with a cleft palate, a toddler with a parasite brought on by eating unwashed vegetables and a 10-month-old girl with fever and diarrhea.

Dr. Abdel Rahim Johshan, a Palestinian, joined him for a consultation on eight-year old Hamad Ranim Aburam, a pale and slender, wheezing boy. Schurr offered a diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma and had a medical assistant bring in an inhaler.

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