Palestinian nurse: we’ve been occupied for 73 years – a ceasefire is not enough

Gaza (Mahmoud Issa - Sopa Images)

Staff

Left Voice  /  May 25, 2021 

Left Voice interviewed Mohammad Samara, a nurse from the West Bank, during the increased assault on Palestinian people and their land. We spoke about his experience seeing the disparities in healthcare and the recent strike on May 18.

Thanks a lot for being willing to do this interview with us, it means a lot. Could you start by telling us your name, where you live and what you do for work?

My name is Mohammed Samara, and I live in Nablus in Palestine. I work at Refugee Surgical Hospital Perfidia, which is in one of the big neighborhoods in Nablus City. The hospital I work in is for surgical cases only. I have two daughters and we live very close to the hospital. When [anything happens], sometimes I’m the closest one, so I have to go to the hospital for an emergency. I finished my nursing degree in 2005 and I have worked in the medical hospital since 2008. There are two public hospitals — one is a medical hospital and the other a surgical hospital. Throughout these years, I knew there were clashes and anger, but because we are a medical hospital, we haven’t had these cases in our hospitals. Since I transferred to the surgical hospital [in 2013], I started to be more aware of such things. When there are clashes, demonstrations, or attacks from settlers or Israeli soldiers, we are the first hospital to receive the injured. I have witnessed many cases and heard many stories. Working in this hospital opened my eyes more to the cause and what the Israelis can do. Besides that, in my free time, I volunteer in some associations as a translator in English and Arabic. I teach English to kids, and I teach Arabic to international volunteers. I also do tours of the old city of Nablus. On the tours, I talk about Palestinian history and politics, which are often distorted. We can’t just separate [history and politics] from culture. So this is all included in my tours. It’s all voluntary. I just do what I do because I want them to see how we live and what the Palestinians are facing, even if they are in their home.

What type of responses do you get when you include that type of political history for people who go on your tours?

And as I mentioned, we’ve been occupied since 1948. It’s been 72 years. I can’t just, you know, put this aside and say, “I’m just not talking about it.” When you go to the Old City — and I hope one day you both come and visit us — you will see a lot of things that I can’t just avoid and not mention — memorials, pictures, so many writings of the world, some demolished houses. I can’t just deny it. Most of the people who come to see, they kind of have an idea. On the tours, they open their eyes more; they see the real story, they see where it actually happened. They see it without changing the facts. They witness it. They really talk to the people who have faced these events. I have never had anyone who didn’t like what I said or what they saw. Of course, they were very sad. They were very angry. They were surprised or shocked. But it is a bit of a shock, the realities they see, even in Hebron or Bethlehem. These are, of course, the cities that as a Palestinian who lives in the West Bank, I have access to. I can’t go to Jerusalem or any other city, Jaffa or Haifa.

Over the past several days, Israel has been conducting this attack on Palestine as part of its genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people. Could you tell us about your experience over this past week and how your work in the hospital has changed since the bombings began?

At a surgical hospital, we have to be not 100 percent prepared, we have to be more than 100 percent prepared for such events. I’m going to say something first about the Covid-19 situation we’ve had since last year. Here in Nablus, we had a massive increase in the numbers of people infected with Covid-19. Here in Nablus, we have five or six private hospitals and two public hospitals. But after the huge number of critical Covid-19 patients, the Ministry of Health opened two centers for Covid-19 and turned Al-Watani Hospital, which is a public hospital for medical cases, into a Covid-19 center. So they transferred all the medical patients to our hospital, which made our hospital fully occupied — no beds. That lasted for several months. And at the time that these events [the bombings] started, we weren’t really well prepared for it. It was very sudden. So luckily, the numbers of Covid patients decreased and Al-Watani Hospital was able to take back their patients. If it wasn’t for that, it would have been a huge mess. And really, we couldn’t have done anything for the injured because the hospital was full. So luckily, like on the day that the injured started to come to the hospital, they took back the medical patients to the other hospital, and in a few hours the hospital was full. We have more than 200 beds, and it was full. This includes the beds that we have, the ICU, the neonatal ICU, the paediatric ward, and the burn unit. It was really busy — the nurses, the doctors who were off duty, even they were called to come and help save the injured or help in the E.R. and in the wards.

 Did you have enough supplies at the hospitals?

Supply shortages are really common in Palestine. As nurses and doctors, we have to be creative and to work with what we have. It’s all because of the long years of restriction of movement and restrictions on the import of medical supplies. The electricity is intermittent and the water is not reliable. We usually face a lack of supplies, but somehow we make it work and we manage.

How do you see the occupation affecting overall patient health and your ability to care for patients as a health care worker?

It’s not only about the occupation, it’s also that we really have a lack of nurses and doctors. Where I work, I work on the orthopaedic, and it’s the section that has very busy days during such events with the clashes and like the gunshots. We only have two nurses each shift and we take care of 20 patients. So that and our lack of supplies leads to low quality of medical care. When I work with patients, my priority is to give them medication and to make sure they are OK. But to be honest, I just don’t have the time to really support them or make a proper nursing care plan. I need to prioritize keeping them alive, and basically just giving as much medical care as I can.

We wanted to ask you about the disparities in health care under the umbrella of Covid-19 between Palestinians and Israelis. What are the differences in care that a Palestinian might get in, for example, Gaza versus somebody in another part of the country?

In Gaza especially, it is more unfortunate. They have more restrictions — from Egypt, from Israel. It is a really small area with a huge population. In the beginning, I think it was easier for the West Bank to get tests, and then later they started getting them for Gaza. The restrictions make it really hard to get medical supplies for them. For their population, they didn’t have enough beds and enough ventilators, they didn’t have good access to electricity because it’s intermittent, very on and off. They also lack doctors and nurses compared to the population and they don’t have enough beds.

Israel has been in the global news about its high vaccination rate. Could you talk about disparities you see regarding the vaccine response and access in Palestine going forward?

The Palestinian authorities stated that there has been a delay in getting the vaccinations because of Israel’s restrictions and because of the factories that are making the vaccines. In the beginning, people didn’t want to take these vaccines. Most of the people didn’t want to take it, but later they started to be convinced about it. It was difficult in the beginning because medical teams are supposed to be the first ones who get it, but it didn’t happen here. The politicians and other people got it first. They really made it difficult for the medical workers. I had Covid-19 in September. I am thankful I survived. That really almost killed me. I stayed locked up for one month. It was like intensive care for me. When it was time for me to take it, they said, “No, we’re not going to give it to you because you already had it.” But it had already been seven months. So they weren’t giving it to all medical workers, which we didn’t like. So we didn’t exactly protest but we started talking to everyone about it and then later because of that we got it. They set up days where people who were certain ages could get it — sixty and seventy years old. They made a schedule. But many people still didn’t believe that Covid-19 even exists. But still, there are a lot who took the vaccine.

For those who do want to take the vaccine, can anyone get the vaccine in Palestine?

At the beginning, it was not available and we didn’t have enough vaccines. As I see now, I don’t have any numbers, but as I hear from people, they say “we go to a clinic, and they give us the vaccine.” So, I’m not really sure if it’s available. There was a lot of chaos and it was really messed up. I don’t think it was very well organized because in my hometown, they started to say “Yeah, we have the vaccine, so let’s let certain people get the vaccine who meet criteria.” But I was talking to my mom and dad [who meet that criteria] and they didn’t mention anything about getting the vaccine. People all seem to have different information. I’m not sure if it’s the management and lack of organization or if it’s because it’s not available. I hear some people saying that they went to this or that clinic and they got the vaccine. It’s a bit unclear. There is something really taboo about Covid-19 here.

There was a recent strike called among the Palestinian people on May 18. Did you participate in that strike? What was the impact of the strike that you noticed?

Unfortunately, no. I was in the hospital just in case something happened. My duty was to be there if something happened, which, of course, it did. It’s been a really long time since I saw such a strike. During the second Intifada I was studying nursing, so I lived through that whole Intifada. I saw so many things during that time. And with all that was happening in the last year and in those years and what’s happening now… I was a little bit desperate. I thought maybe we just have to give up. What I saw [with the strike] was — I don’t know if it’s the right word, but it was really refreshing. I know that there is still hope for this generation. What really makes me really optimistic is that there was unity that I haven’t seen in a long time. There was unity between the Palestinians who live in the occupied land in what everybody calls “Israel” and Gaza. So after all this time, there was this [connection].

Do you know of any future plans for labour actions?

I am not sure if there will be. But what I saw is that maybe this is a seed for the future. The ceasefire in Gaza doesn’t mean that everything is done. There are still acts like what happened in Jerusalem today. After the prayer, Israelis attacked the people who were praying in Al-Aqsa. We know that this is not going to end now. This is the start for a good future, and I hope there will be more united movements for this one goal.

You mentioned the cease fire and the international media attention it has received, and Biden is being praised for it. People are thinking that this means an end to the immediate bombardment. But as you mentioned, there’s been ongoing violence during an occupation of 73 years. What would you say is important to continue sharing with people so that this movement isn’t forgotten?

About the ceasefire, yeah they say it’s “done” but that doesn’t mean that everything is actually done. There is still the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which started everything. The ethnic cleansing that they carry out is not nearly completely finished. Not only this, but we’ve been occupied for 73 years. A ceasefire is not enough. Personally, I have lost so many friends. Two of my best friends were in prison for a long time. I work in the hospital and I see what they do with people. I was in the hospital a couple of years ago, there was a little boy who came who was burned because a settler set fire to their house. His mother, father, and one-and-a-half year [old] brother died. He survived, but he was severely burned, like third degree on more than eighty percent of his body. Of course the ceasefire made me happy, but no, it’s really not enough.

People around the world are likely thinking that the call for the ceasefire means an end to the violence. But as you mentioned, there has been a decades long occupation and you see the daily violence enacted on Palestinians. What is important to continue to share with people so that this movement and effort isn’t forgotten?

I was studying nursing in Nablus during the second intifada. At that time, there were only a few reporters, there was no Internet or social media really in 2002 and 2003. Back then, there were only reporters from CNN or Al-Jazeera or whatever, and they said what they wanted to say. If I were in the United States, let’s say, I would just be in my living room, watching the TV, getting angry, and that’s all I could do. But now everybody becomes a reporter — social media has made a huge, huge change and impact, and opened people’s eyes to what is happening here. Everyone can make their own reports. They can show the world what’s actually happening without any censoring, without manipulating words. I’m really happy with what happened with the push forward for Palestine, and social media has made a huge impact with the Palestinians and really supported us this time. That was really different.

Social media was huge in publicizing the Palestinian struggle. Is there anything else you think that made this fight so important and internationally supported in this current moment?

We have this saying in Arabic “one hand cannot clap,” I don’t know if you have anything like that in English. So, Palestine was one hand, and I think the whole international community really joined hands together and that really affected us. I can’t describe how amazing it is to see the demonstrations and people taking a stand with Palestinians. I don’t know, I don’t know what else to say. It really makes me more hopeful. I’d never seen a movement so big for Palestine.

What is your message for what people in the United States or other parts of the world can do to continue to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle?

I was thinking about it all day. There are so many things.

The history is clear. It’s obvious who is occupied and who is the occupier. This is not a war. Israel has the most powerful army in the world and the Palestinians have nothing, only their hands. I think the encouragement and support from people all over the world can give them power. And it’s better than any weapon that any country can provide to anyone and better than any funding. This is something that will last forever.

Thank you. The struggle of the Palestinian people against an occupying power backed by one of the largest empires in world history is something that inspires people all over the world to continue to stand against imperialism and occupation. We stand in solidarity and will continue to support in any way that we can. Thank you.