Dr. Ruchama Marton, the organizations founder and president initially conceived of the idea behind PHR-Israel’s mobile clinic while studying the condition of health services in the occupied Palestinian territory. After participating in and observing mobile clinics run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and the Palestinian Popular Committees, a plan emerged to initiate a mobile clinic in cooperation with various Palestinian Health organizations in order to achieve cooperation based on solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle against the occupation. One way this solidarity was to be expressed was by combining teams of Israeli and Palestinian health professionals to provide medical services to Palestinian patients in need. Throughout the years, PHR-Israel’s struggle against the occupation has involved protesting against movement restrictions placed on medical crews and patients, promoting the provision of equal medical equipment and access to advanced training of physicians and nurses, whilst countering the harassment of physicians and arbitrary imprisonment (administrative arrests) by the Israeli authorities. In addition, PHR-Israel has assisted in individual cases when specific diagnosis or treatment was not available in the occupied territory.
The mobile clinic became a permanent program in 1989, when Dr. Salah Haj Yahia joined PHR-Israel to director and manage the mobile clinic. Since the program’s founding, Haj Yehia has coordinated volunteers, expanded the involvement of Palestinian professionals and organized joint weekly mobile clinics in the West Bank.
Regular mobile clinics are held in isolated villages in the West Bank, while specialist clinics are often held in medical centers in major West Bank cities. Thanks to this mobile clinic project, contacts have been established between Palestinian and Israeli physicians who keep in touch on a daily basis to discuss medical issues and other topics of exchange.
Since the rise in hostilities in September 2000 and increased restrictions on movement and access, the need for weekly mobile clinics has risen. Many residents have experienced difficulty reaching medical facilities or fully lack any and all option to travel to the doctor. In recent years, with continued support, PHR-Israel has been fortunate enough to increase the frequency of our general and specialist mobile clinics.
The mobile clinic does not aim and cannot respond to all the deficiencies of the existing Palestinian health system. It is not a substitute for a proper community-based medical system that is planned and funded by the governing authority. For this reason, clinics operate at specific locations and in a limited capacity, mostly supplying preliminary care and triage services.
The achievement of the mobile clinic is its ability to foster cooperation and the transfer of professional medical information between Israeli and Palestinian specialists. Furthermore, providing support to Palestinian patients and physicians and participating in the struggle for their rights in the face of severe restrictions including restriction on free movement.
In 2004 PHR-Israel opened a new project in which surgery specialists visit a Palestinian hospital and perform operations on a volunteer basis. This also enables them to train Palestinian surgeons. The project is still in an experimental stage and operates for now at Tulkarem, in the center of the West Bank. PHR-Israel hopes to expand this project in the future.
Medical teams of the mobile and specialist clinics face increasing obstacles from the Israeli military on roads to the villages. At times their arrival is delayed for hours. The construction of the Separation Wall increases these difficulties and may threaten the entire project. The perseverance and the dedication of the Israeli teams in their attempt to enter the Palestinian territory, meet colleagues and work together for the sake of the community is, in our view, an appropriate reaction to the policy of separating communities in the occupied territory. Our operation has continued throughout the first and second Intifadas with the full cooperation of our Palestinian colleagues.