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Hope's Burial Ground: The Slide Show That Moved Cherie Booth Blair
Published on Friday, June 21, 2002 in the UK Morning Star
Hope's Burial Ground
The Slide Show That Moved Cherie Booth Blair
by Felicity Arbuthnot

The remarks made by the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Booth QC., relating to the despair which drives young Palestinians to become suicide bombers, for which she later apologized were incisively apt. Perhaps the only mistake she made was the apology.

Speaking at the launch of a 500,000 appeal at the charity Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP) with Queen Rania of Jordan, Ms Booth commented: "As long as you have young people who feel they have no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress." Earlier she had commented on the understandable desperation of a young who felt they had no present and "no future".

Ms Booth had watched a graphic slide presentation filmed by a MAP delegation just returned from Palestine. The group included Sir Andrew Green, former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Chairman of MAP; Chief Executive, Mrs Sa'ida Nuseibeh, General Surgeon, Dr Anthony Peel and Dr Swee Chai Ang who worked in Lebanon in the Sabra and Shatila camps during the time of the massacre there for which Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been held accountable.

The situation in Palestine is: "shocking", said Sir Andrew. "Towns are surrounded by ditches and barbed wire." A permit is needed from the Israelis for Palestinians to leave; " .. they are kept waiting then for hours at one of the one hundred and twenty checkpoints (which has) a serious effect on medical services ... some Israelis themselves are now saying this amounts to a systematic oppression and humiliation of a people", leading to "anger,frustration and revenge - if the Israelis think they are rooting out terrorism, they are sadly mistaken, they are engendering it." Additionally, sixty percent of the Palestinian population live on less than two $US a day - sixty percent of men are now unemployed.

"The first thing I do in the morning is count my staff", a hospital director commented - often they simply do not make it past the check points. In Nablus, a slide showed the local dentist - behind him was his "surgery" - bombed by F-16's, demolition completed by Caterpillar bulldozers.

Mrs Sabri, a seventy year old widow with cancer, gazed bleakly out from another frame. Her family had four times been turned back at check points trying to take her to hospital. Finally, they put her on a donkey, transporting her through a circuitous, secret route, rendering her utterly exhausted. Another patient needing dialysis three times a week has to walk twelve miles through the mountains to evade the checkpoints, said Sir Andrew.

But understanding of the depths of desperation which can lead to the decimation of humanity by suicide bombers came with the two youngest cases. When Maysoon, aged twenty one, went into labor during the night, her husband set off to drive her to the hospital. At a checkpoint, he was shot dead, Maysoon was shot twice in the back, stripped naked and left in the road for two hours, until an ambulance finally arrived, her screams having been heard by locals. Her baby was born in the hospital elevator. Her survivor guilt and trauma are so severe that her family fear she will commit suicide or become a suicide bomber.

Ahmed is twelve: "calm, together and determined to kill Israelis." His best friend was shot dead in front of him by an Israeli soldier. Fifty three percent of Palestinian children suffer from trauma symptoms. MAP aims to build a network of councilors and reach the affected within twenty four hours. In Gaza, almost certainly the next place to be massively targeted, they aim to establish one hundred first aid posts so the injured no longer bleed to death where they lie.

"The needs are enormous, but no less important is the knowledge that people in Britain care", says Sir Andrew. Understanding is a start, but it is a world short of enough.

Medical Aid for Palestine: 33a Islington Park Street, London N1 1QB.


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