A Doctor in Galilee

By George Polley

(A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. Hatim Kanaaneh. Foreword by Jonathan Cook. Pluto Press, 2008)

Hatim Kanaaneh is the kind of physician I enjoyed working with in my career as a mental health professional: compassionate, humorous and committed to bringing quality medical services to the people of his community, which in his case, was in spite of incredible odds. The government agencies that ought to have helped him because their help would have contributed to the health of the entire district put up roadblock after roadblock to frustrate his efforts and discourage him. But the guy just never gave up, and that is something I admire.

After receiving his medical education at Harvard University (M.D. and a Master’s Degree in Public Health), he returned to his native village of Arrabeh to work as a physician. This is what he has to say about his first six years: They “had proved to me beyond any shadow of a doubt the enduring hostility shown by ‘my’ state towards the one in five citizens who are not Jewish but the natives of the country, its Palestinian minority.” At the end of those six years he and his family moved to Hawaii, where he worked as a family physician for a year, then returned to Israel. Not only were conditions unimproved, “there had been new and troubling developments. One of the most concerning was a shortage of drinking water in many Arab communities in the Galilee.” In Arrabeh, the Israel National Water Company turned off the water supply for most of each day … while in Yodfat, “the Jewish settlement next door, never lacks water for its cattle, cotton fields and green lawns”. “It was enough to instill despair in my heart – or redouble my commitment.” It redoubled his commitment.

In his chapter on tribal politics (Chapter 12), Dr. Kanaaneh asks an important question: “Is it possible that Israel could ever attune itself  to the health and development needs of its Arab citizens and start according them the same level of benevolent attention it does to newly arrived Jewish immigrants? Of course not – as long as it is committed to its identity and character as ‘the state of the Jews’. With that as its founding idea, no room is left for true empowerment of the Palestinian minority” (page 139).

I will take that idea a step or two further: In any state, excluding any group from the health and development needs (one of which is education) is a self-destructive act carried out upon the state as a whole. No state can remain healthy when it denies essential services, such as health and education, to a part of it. It’s like denying care to your feet and devoting all your resources to your hair and looks. Eventually the gangrene in a toe kills you and it’s your fault, not the toe’s. t Trying to tell that to someone who is determined to not hear it is an exercise in futility. And that is what Dr. Kanaaneh faced his whole career.

Is this a good book? Oh yes, definitely. And Dr. Kanaaneh is a fine, courageous man. Retired now, he lives with his wife Didi and an ancient olive tree in Arrabeh, the Galilee. He is a man I would enjoy sitting down with over coffee and sweets and talking about the years and our experiences of the wonders and the immense follies of those who deem themselves powerful.

(Click here to purchase the book.)

– George Polley is a Japan-based American writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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