A Bridge Too Far

Last week saw a deterioration in the condition of Dr. Hassan Barghouti, a lecturer in literature at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. A year ago, Barghouti, a 48-year-old father of one, contracted cancer of the lungs.

Last week saw a deterioration in the condition of Dr. Hassan Barghouti, a lecturer in literature at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. A year ago, Barghouti, a 48-year-old father of one, contracted cancer of the lungs. His physicians at Sheikh Zeid Hospital in Ramallah recommended a chemotherapy drug that might be able to prolong his life somewhat and improve the quality of his life in its final stage. The medicine cannot be obtained in besieged and occupied Ramallah, and getting into Israel is out of the question.

Barghouti contacted Amal Hospital in Amman; and last Tuesday, the medicine arrived at Allenby Bridge via a special messenger from the hospital. The Israeli soldiers at the bridge confiscated the package. Barghouti contacted the "medical rescue committees," which, in turn, approached the Physicians for Human Rights organization.

Hadass Ziv, coordinator of projects in the nonprofit association, set to work to get the medicine released urgently. The International Organizations Division (IOD) wanted to know whether the medicine was a donation or a purchase, whether it was intended for one patient or two, and whether it came in a box or a bottle. IOD also asked to see a medical document proving that the patient did indeed require the medicine, and also wanted the license number of the car that would come to pick up the package.

At first, IOD recommended an Israeli car, but then changed its mind, as the vehicle would not be able to enter Ramallah. Then, it suggested a Palestinian car, only to realize that it would have a hard time getting out of Ramallah. Finally, it hit on the idea of a Palestinian ambulance. Then, it demanded coordination with the liaison office for Ramallah to enable the ambulance to leave the city, coordination with the liaison office for Jericho to enable the ambulance to enter that city on the way to the bridge and coordination with the Allenby Bridge authorities to get a permit to enter the bridge area. Then, it wanted to know the name of the sender of the medicine and the composition of the drug - and by then, it was night.

The health coordinator in the Civil Administration, Dalia Basah, said she had to speak with the family of the patient. Another clerk requested a second medical document proving that the patient was truly in need of the medicine. By then, it was already Wednesday.

The hours passed; the medicine was held up at the bridge; and Barghouti lay dying in Ramallah. A second day of clarifications was also not enough to complete the preparations for sending the medicine to Ramallah. On Thursday morning, there was another phone call from the Civil Administration: It needed another medical authorization. But by then, it was too late: Dr. Barghouti was dead. The medicine remained at the bridge; and the spokesman for the Civil Administration, Peter Lerner, did not even bother returning a call from Ha'aretz about the episode.

Maybe the medicine would have prolonged Barghouti's life and maybe not - but its story encapsulates the story of the Israeli occupation. If someone with connections like Barghouti's is unable to obtain urgent medical treatment, what is a refugee camp resident who is suffering from a fatal disease supposed to do?

The Palestinians are imprisoned in their towns and villages in such a way as to render movement from one place to another, even to save lives, impossible. In such a manner, Israel is again managing their lives and deaths. The semblance of Palestinian sovereignty has vanished and the few civil spheres that had been transferred to the Palestinians' control have been taken back. Israel destroyed most of the civil institutions in the West Bank during the course of Operation Defensive Shield. Last week in the Tul Karm area, I saw a series of institutions that were partially or wholly destroyed - a post office, a kindergarten, schools, municipal offices and a mother-and-child clinic. These institutions are unable to function now.

Once more the occupation reaches into every corner - the home, the school, the workplace, the road, the field, the store, and the deathbed. But in contrast to the pre-Oslo period, when there was a full occupation and responsibility for the life and welfare of the residents was in Israeli hands, through the agency of the military governors, Israel now takes no responsibility for the lives of the occupied population. This is a grave and intolerable change. In accordance with both international law and the rules of natural justice, Israel, which ravaged the civilian infrastructures and is keeping an entire nation in conditions of imprisonment, is responsible - as the occupying power - for the fate of the occupied.

Concern for the residents should fall under the purview of the coordinator of government activities in the territories. But Major General Amos Gilad is busy providing the media with information on the quantity of underwear and kiwi fruit that was supplied to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat during his imprisonment - another form of humiliation by Israel - and circulating evaluations about the success of Operation Defensive Shield.

Every Israeli should ask himself what he would feel if a dying loved one were treated in the same way as Barghouti was. What feelings would be kindled toward whoever was responsible? And what kind of life and what kind of death have we been imposing on the Palestinians for the past 35 years?