Letter from Nablus – David Jewell
David Jewell is a member of the Bristol and West Progressive Jewish Community in Bristol and is a medical doctor.
13 May 2016
This is the fourth time I’ve come to the West Bank. It’s all in aid of a project to help the Palestinian Authority develop better primary medical care (general practice to anyone living in the UK, but the term more accepted internationally is family medicine).
The only thing to report at present is that the system we’re working with is, at the same time, very underdeveloped and very complicated. Every time we come here we learn something new and unexpected, and without understanding how the system works it is both arrogant and impossible to give any useful advice.
Before I left, the colleague who’s in charge of the whole shebang said ‘Being there will mean you’ll really get to know how it all works’, to which the only sensible reply was ‘I’ve had a lifetime working in the NHS and I haven’t a clue how that works. How on earth do you think I am going to fathom out the Palestinian system?’ The system is Byzantine in its complexity, and I don’t propose to send anyone to sleep by trying to explain them here. Not for now, anyway.
An interesting journey
The first trip here started with one of the more alarming experiences of my life. I arrived at Tel Aviv airport to take the trip to Nablus. In darkness I was taken in an Israeli taxi into the West Bank area. Then, at a destination whose name I still don’t know, I was transferred, like a piece of human cargo, to an Arab taxi that then delivered me safe and sound to my hotel.
Since then I have understood this odd arrangement a bit better. All the vehicles have either Palestinian or Israeli number plates. Those with Palestinian plates are not allowed into Israel. Palestinians living in Jerusalem have cars with Israeli plates, and can travel freely (the curious travel arrangement for my first trip was because it’s too expensive to pay for a taxi from Jerusalem to do the trip: airport-Nablus-Jerusalem).
The end of the story is that every time you cross into Area A of the Palestinian territory there are large red signs to warn the Israeli citizens that it is dangerous and illegal for them to enter. It has taken a while for me grasp how privileged we are to be able to move fairly freely.
Not entirely freely of course, because of the checkpoints. Lots of them simply moving within Palestine as well as those when crossing between Palestine & Israel. Mostly manned by bored-looking young soldiers. I’ve been through quite a few, and only once been stopped and asked to show a passport. But they could decide to stop everyone and my friends tell me the uncertainty is the problem – they simply don’t know if they’re going to be stopped or not.
A warm welcome
Once here, we are always treated with great welcome and hospitality. Indeed I am treated much better than I deserve. The vice dean of the medical faculty gave me half an hour in the middle of a very busy schedule, it being the time of the year for exams, in order to give me an invaluable briefing prior to meeting some influential doctors from the Palestinian Medical Council. When I expressed my profound thanks for his time, he responded with his appreciation of my giving time to work with them. It’s very humbling.
Family & friends in Bristol have asked whether it is safe, and I can only reply that it feels very safe. (One of my synagogue friends wondered aloud if, with the current spate of knife attacks in Israel, it is safer to be in the West Bank than in Israel). I suspect that, as in many trouble spots, one is much more likely to fall victim to a motor accident than to a deliberate attack. The driving feels pretty awful, but as also happens they all seem to know what to expect of each other and manage to avoid having accidents.