How the Israeli blockade affects cancer treatment in Palestine.

Dr Philippa Whitford at Dunya Womens Cancer Centre.

By Dr Philippa Whitford MP

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I recently hosted the ‘Wear it Pink’ photocall at Westminster for MPs to get silly photos, in outlandish pink gear, to highlight the campaign. While increased awareness, earlier presentation and modern treatments have improved Breast Cancer care in Scotland and the UK, this is not the case everywhere. Having worked with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) as a surgical volunteer in Gaza for a year and a half in 1991 and 92, I returned last year for the first time in 25 years to see how we could contribute to the improvement of breast cancer treatment there and in the West Bank and, then again, just a few weeks ago.

Dr Philippa Whitford at Dunya Womens Cancer Centre.
Dr Philippa Whitford at Dunya Womens Cancer Centre.

What struck me once I made my way through checkpoints at Erez crossing was how crowded and claustrophobic the Gaza Strip is after 10 years of virtual siege. The spread of Gaza City outwards to accommodate the population of almost two million people, squashed into a strip of land 8 by 40 kilometres, is eating into the arable land within the strip, while the Israeli security wall and associated no-man’s land shrinks it around the edges. The pervasive smell of sewage as a result of the near doubling of the population and refusal of Israeli permission to expand the sewage treatment plant, means raw sewage is just pumped out into the sea; one of Gaza’s most important resources. The water has been undrinkable for several years. The beaches could be beautiful and the plentiful seafood could have made tourism a major source of income and economic activity but the blockade of Gaza by land, sea and air have made that impossible. Gaza fishing boats, a traditional source of income as well as food, face the impact of the sewage effluent as well as the fact that, while boats from the south of the Strip can now fish out to the main reef at 9 miles, those from Gaza City harbour face a 6 mile limit.

Gazan Fishing boat. Credit Dr. Philippa Whitford
Gazan Fishing boat. Credit Dr. Philippa Whitford

When we lived in Gaza, 25 years ago, it was still under direct occupation by the Israeli Defence Force and Settlers which meant there were clashes every few days, resulting in patients with gunshot wounds needing surgery. Since the Israeli withdrawal, it is easier to move about in Gaza but the external security wall and a decade of blockade impact on every aspect of daily life, including cancer treatment. For those requiring chemotherapy, it is not always possible to maintain an unbroken course of treatment and there are always chronic drug shortages – WHO report that 35% of all essential medicines are out of stock in Gaza.

As I documented last year, radiotherapy, a key element of breast cancer treatment, but also crucial for many other tumours, is not available within Gaza so patients need to travel to East Jerusalem. However, not only is it expensive for patients to travel and stay in Jerusalem for over a month, many are simply denied access to Israel and permission to travel – in August, 45% of all patients were denied permission or received no response. During the clinic we carried out on the first day, I met an elderly lady who had been trying to get permission to travel for radiotherapy for six months without success and came to the clinic concerned that a nodule in her Mastectomy scar might already be a sign of recurrence: a sad phenomenon which is not uncommon among those with the highest risk disease. It is hard to imagine what threat she could possibly pose to Israeli security.

It is not just those who are denied permission who are affected as the routine denial of permission is skewing treatment, with the majority of surgeons opting for mastectomy and clearance of the axillary nodes so most patients won’t need radiotherapy in the first place. This aggressive approach for all patients, regardless of the size and extent of disease, has significant ramifications due to the cultural impact for a woman of losing her breast and the high incidence of lymphoedema or arm swelling. It also feeds into a nihilism among patients about the potential to treat breast cancer and the fear of destructive treatment keeps women in Gaza from coming forward until the disease is very advanced. At our first clinic in Gaza, once our radiologist performed detailed ultrasound scans, sadly patient after patient was found to have heavy nodal involvement. As these patients had already been seen by other breast surgeons, this highlighted the need to develop a more detailed diagnostic pathway so the medical team can make the most appropriate treatment plan for each patient – this is one of the key aspects that the MAP project would seek to address.

Palestinian Ministry of Health data shows that approximately 1 in 3 breast cancer patients in the OPT are node negative and the key aim of my trip was to introduce the technique of Sentinel Node Biopsy (SNB), which involves removing just one or two nodes for testing in women who appear to be node negative and carries a very low risk of side effects. In the UK, we would use a combination of blue dye and a radiocolloid injected into the breast to identify the first nodes in the axillary lymph chain, i.e. the most likely to have any cancer deposits. Unfortunately, the Israeli authorities do not allow the import of radiocolloid into the OPT – describing it as a security threat, despite the fact that Technitium has a half-life of a mere 4 hours which means the radioactivity is essentially gone the following day.

 

Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City
Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City

 

It felt like a homecoming for me as I operated in Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City, where I had worked back in the early

 

‘90s, and received an affectionate welcome from old friends and colleagues. Its lush garden remains a wee green oasis in this city of concrete and sand. Over the next three years, the MAP project will take multidisciplinary breast cancer specialists, from across the Scottish Breast Cancer networks, to the West Bank and Gaza. The aim is to help develop an overarching vision for Breast Cancer care, to help support quality improvement measures and particularly to provide training and mentoring through our Multidisciplinary Teams.

It is, however, not possible to ignore the political nature of the constraints faced by Palestinians in their daily lives, nor how that affects healthcare. There are many other parts of the world where cancer treatment is unavailable but the difference in Gaza is that the obstruction is political in nature. The decade long siege affects every aspect of life and results in survival from breast cancer being around half that of women in the UK, or even just a few kilometres along the coast in Ashkelon. The international community need to put the Israel-Palestine conflict back on the agenda. In this centenary year of the Balfour Declaration, the UK must recognise that, while a Jewish State has been created in Israel, the second half of that declaration, which promised to protect the Palestinian people, most certainly has not been delivered.

First published in The Sunday Herald 22/10/17

The Facts on the Ground

By Tommy Sheppard MP. Tommy is MP for Edinburgh East, Vice-Chair of the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Palestine and co-Spokesperson for SNP Friends of Palestine at Westminster.

 

The hills around Jerusalem were drenched in sun the last time I was here. It brought out their significance and history. This week, though, the Holy Land has been visited by a Scottish winter. As I peer through the steamed up windows of our VW Transporter, it’s decidedly dreich out there.

I’m here on a parliamentary delegation to see if the political mood matches the weather. The trip is organised by the Committee for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding (www.caabu.org) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map.org.uk). Over four days we have a packed schedule of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, human rights groups and the UK Foreign Office. We also get the chance to see first-hand what it’s like to live under a military occupation.

While we are here Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is being entertained in Washington by President Trump. In one of his typical glib moments Trump tells the press “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one that both parties like.” As he says it the world’s press and diplomatic industry are desperately trying to decipher what he means: is this a change in US policy or not?

Tempting as it is to see this as another spontaneous and reactionary outburst, I think it’s Trump’s way of buying time. The new US administration hasn’t yet decided which way to go and maybe, just maybe, they are beginning to understand the consequences of giving the Israeli right what they want. Things do look, however, like they might begin to move.

2017 is a year of anniversaries. It is now 50 years since Israel won the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and was left in military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, collectively known as the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). It is the longest military occupation of modern times. This most intractable of disputes is fraught with the problems of competing descriptions of the same thing, competing realities.

Emmanuel Nahshon from the Israeli foreign office rejects the notion of occupation for starters. “How can this be occupied Palestine” he asks “when the West Bank was run by Jordan and the Gaza Strip by Egypt before the 1967 war?” It’s a disingenuous point. Sure, there’s never actually yet been a state of Palestine, but the territory in question was exactly where it was intended to be.

The Two State Solution

This was one of the key components of the Oslo agreement reached by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation the last time they tried to make peace back in 1994. As with so many other aspects of this debate you could say opinion is divided on the matter: Israel takes one view, the rest of the world has another.

The Oslo Accords saw the creation of a Palestinian Authority and the division of the West Bank into three zones. Areas A and B contained the cities and towns, with most of the population. Area C was the rest, comprising 62% of the land. This was placed under the administrative control of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) as agents of the occupying power. It’s hard to overstate the degree of compromise that the PLO made in 1994, they not only recognised the State of Israel but effectively conceded that it would occupy around 80% of historic Palestine.

The intention back in 1993 was that a process of transition would take place with the new PA gradually assuming responsibility for all of the West Bank and evolving into a new state of Palestine.  And there were to be further negotiations on a range of matters left undecided in Oslo: refugees, settlements and the status of Jerusalem being the main ones.

The creation of an independent state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza living peacefully alongside a state of Israel based on the pre 1967 boundaries became known as the two state solution. This became the policy of pretty much everyone.

Two states is not a new idea. A hundred years ago then UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s declaration of support for a Jewish homeland also contained the qualification “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done that would be prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. As the British mandate came to a close in 1948, the UN proposed the creation of two states in the area: one Jewish, one Arab.

The objective of the two state solution is to do justice to competing territorial claims. But advocates of the policy ought to be clear that little would be achieved by creating two religious states, each armed to the teeth and living in seething tension with each other. It only works if the states respect each other and cooperate across the border. So if we talk about a Jewish state, or an Arab one, we should be clear we mean this in terms of the culture, history and demography of that country, but that civil and religious rights of everyone must be respected in a secular democratic society.

Permanent Occupation

The truth today is that only one of the two states exists. And that state is occupying the land intended for the other one. Until and unless the occupation ends, the two state solution cannot advance. Not only has the vision of Oslo not been realised, but Israel’s actions since have pushed it further and further away.

Over the last two decades Israel has used the zoning as a means to control the Palestinian population and ingrain and make permanent the occupation.  Most of the population has been hemmed into the urban areas A and B. On a map they look like an archipelago of Palestinian islands in a sea of Israeli occupied land.

In Area C two worlds exist.   Israel had commandeered much of the land as “state” land and then made it available to build residential settlements into which it moved Israeli citizens. This has been going on since the mid-70s and the existence of these enclaves throughout the West Bank was recognised in Oslo as an obstacle to be dealt with. Then there were about 200,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Today they are more than 600,000.

To the Palestinians – and to me –  this looks like a land grab. The UN has declared these settlements illegal and ruled them in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power moving its civilian population into areas it occupies.

We drove through a couple of these settlements. There is nothing low key or temporary about them. Most are modern towns and cities replete with the entire service and tech infrastructure you’d expect in a first world country. Nearby industrial development provides work and means that the settlements now have their own economy and are not just commuter zones into Israel proper. Leisure centres and shopping malls offer a good quality of life and it’s all protected by the fourth most powerful military in the world.

There are about a hundred settlements which have been established by religious extremists without authorisation from the Israeli government. These are known as “outposts” and effectively they are groups of people taking the law into their own hands and trespassing on land which is mostly owned by Palestinian farmers.

In a hardening of the Israeli government’s position the Knesset passed a law two weeks ago which will retrospectively legalise these outposts. If it goes through they will be given the same status and protection as the “official” settlements. This represents a major victory for the hard right Jewish Home party which is a minor partner in Netanyahu’s coalition government. The policy will be challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court and the Attorney General has said he will  not defend it. It remains to be seen, however, whether Netanyahu will simply find himself another Attorney General.

Credit: Tommy Sheppard

Demolitions

At the same time at the Israeli authorities have allowed, indeed encouraged, settlements, they pretty much prohibit any development by Palestinians.  We met with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) who monitor the situation in the oPt and are the go to people for statistics. They told us that in 2015 a total of 15 building permits were issued in the oPt to Palestinians. If people go ahead and put up a structure anyway, including in one farm we visited, installing solar panels, they will be served with a demolition order. Demolitions have been increasing in recent years and OCHA recorded over a thousand last year. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to run a business. It also makes it impossible for towns and cities to develop as the adjoining land is controlled by the Israelis.

We have also witnessed how settlements are used to make the occupation work. Each settlement will have a buffer zone around it in which Palestinians are forbidden. So because settlements are built on hilltops in the midst of Palestinian farms it forces the local population into less and less space. The IDF not only patrol the perimeters, they regularly raid Palestinian villages breaking down doors in the middle of the night and arresting young men.

On top of this there are increasing reports of violence perpetrated by settlers, many of who are religious extremists. We travelled to a farmers’ cooperative just outside Ramallah who have recently built a new olive oil pressing factory supported by Oxfam. (you can buy their oil here in Edinburgh at Earthy and Real Foods – or check out www.zaytoun.org). They told us of gangs of settlers setting dogs on families whilst they were bringing in the olive harvest and cutting or uprooting trees in the olive groves.

The often fractious interaction between settlers and Palestinians is not regulated fairly. Palestinians are subject to martial law and dealt with in the military courts; settlers are dealt with much more leniently under Israeli civil law. So if there’s a fight between a Palestinian and a settler, the soldier will always arrest the Palestinian. He may phone his commander and suggest the police are notified about the settler, but more often than not no action will be taken. Nothing makes the comparison with Apartheid more real than this.

Gerald Horton is a softly spoken Australian barrister who, for the last 11 years, has been running Military Court Watch, an organisation which defends Palestinians caught up in the military courts. He says he appreciates the massive challenge facing the IDF. “Their duty is to protect 400,000 Israeli settlers in the midst of a population of 2.8 million Palestinians who do not want them there. To do that you have to subdue the host population and break their will to resist. That is what the raids, arrests and detentions are all about. It’s not about upholding the rule of law.”

Red Tape and Humiliation

Underpinning the occupation is a vast array of red tape. Permits are needed for everything and are used to control movement and activity. Much of this just becomes a way of life: everyday minor injustices and petty humiliations.  It becomes normal for the five mile journey to work to take two hours because of checkpoints. You just accept that you cannot leave the West Bank. But sometimes the human effects are inhumane.

We visited Makassid general hospital, one of six in East Jerusalem, which specialises in paediatrics. We saw several premature babies on incubators. One was born at 29 weeks and will stay on oxygen until she reaches two kilos. Her mother came from Gaza to deliver her but had to return when her permit ran out. Now she cannot visit as the authorities say the baby is the patient and you have to be getting treatment to get a permit.

The doctors at Makassid also told us that a major problem they experience is “back to back transfers” of patients. This is where an ambulance from Gaza or the West Bank is stopped at a checkpoint and the patient is stretchered through the controls to a separate ambulance waiting on  the Israeli side. On average this takes 24 minutes and the delay has been fatal on occasion.

Daoud Nassar is a Palestinian farmer and head of the only Christian family left in the Palestinian village of Nahalin 9 kilometres south-west of Bethlehem. His grandfather bought the land in 1916 when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1991 the IDF declared the farm “state land” and sent him an eviction notice. But Daoud, unlike most farmers, had all the original deeds and decided to fight the notice in the courts. He’s been doing that for the last 25 years. He has also had 22 separate demolitions served on him for every structure on the farm, each of which he is resisting in the courts.

The day before we visited the IDF used bulldozers to block the road from the farm to Bethlehem. Daoud has been told it is for security reasons. He hopes to persuade the local commander to remove it – he is effectively cut off by road and visitors have to park at the roadblock and walk the final kilometre to the farm. Daoud explains how the roadblocks and checkpoints severely affect his work at harvest time. “During the grape season we pick early in the morning and try to get to market quickly. But sometimes we are held up for hours. We do not have refrigerated trucks  so in the hot sun the grapes spoil and by the time we get through they are sub-standard. “

Credit: Tommy Sheppard

He calls the farm the Tent of Nations and is campaigning throughout the country under the slogan “We refuse to be enemies”.  Listening to this gentle man tell his story with quiet determination I think the phrase “patience of a saint” could never have been more apt.

Jerusalem

The Israeli Government’s actions in Jerusalem do most to undermine a two state solution. Since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967 the authorities have been pursuing the twin objectives of increasing the Jewish population of the city whilst simultaneously reducing the Arab population. This process is known as the Judaisation of Jerusalem.

For four decades Israel has been building settlements to the east of the city in the occupied West Bank. These are effectively suburbs of Jerusalem and right wing members of the Knesset are urging the government to now annex the occupied areas including the major settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. If that happens it will effectively cut the West Bank in two.

Inside the city the Palestinian area in East Jerusalem is under intense pressure. Sarit Michaeli from the Israeli Human Rights Organisation B’tselem (www.btselem.org) took us to the neighbourhood of Silwan lying in the shadow of the Al Aqsa mosque. We met community activist  Zuheir Rajabi who organises 81 families in this area of the old city. He’s lived there all his life but has now been served with an eviction notice on behalf of a Jewish trust which claims ownership from the nineteenth century. Like most of his neighbours he has no paperwork to prove his ownership of the property. Like most, he never thought he’d need it.

One by one Palestinian homes are being taken over by Jewish families who see themselves as the vanguard of the new Jerusalem. You can tell their homes from the massive blue and white Israeli flags in which thy are draped. These settlers seem to revel in the opposition they face from the long established Palestinian population, Zuheir claims they are determined to provoke a reaction. He points to the private security police which guard each settler family, paid for by the city council out of his taxes.

If there is to be a Palestinian state, then East Jerusalem would be its capital as the historic claims on this city are shared by both Muslims and Jews for whom it is equally significant. Judaisation is designed to prevent this from happening.

One state solution?

Israel has paid lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state even as its every policy seems to make this harder and harder to achieve. But now the coalition government may be ready to ditch the idea completely and pursue the objective of a greater Israel by annexing the Palestinian territories. I assume that this was on the agenda in Washington this week.

For the first time there is a majority in the Israeli cabinet which opposes a two state solution. This week several ministers took advantage of the Netanyahu visit to restate their vision. “Israel needs to say loudly and clearly: no to a Palestinians state, yes to an expanded, complete and united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty” says Transport Minister Yisrael Katz.  Education Minister Naftali Bennett who leads the extreme right party Jewish Home and is part of Netanyahu’s coalition, went further: “We need to say that everywhere, to every Christian and Muslim in Europe and to every Jew in Israel and in the world. The Land of Israel is ours. Period.”

Parties like Jewish Home are clear in their intention. The want to see a state of Israel which stretches across all of historic Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river. They want it to be a religious state where civil rights are related to Judaism. They are in a minority for now but there seems no doubt that opinion in Israel has shifted markedly to the right.

Most of the Israelis we met would describe themselves as liberal or left wing. I was intrigued to know how they saw things. Sarit from B’tselem says the word “left” is a dirty word in Israel at the moment so they don’t use it. “We are pessimistic but more resilient than ever” she tells me. Even with the shift to the right polls still suggest a majority of ordinary Israelis favour a two state solution and would end the occupation if it brought peace.

One of the many wonderful Israeli campaigners we met was Yehuda Shaul who founded Breaking the Silence (www.breakingthesilence.org.il) eleven years ago. It’s an organisation which records and publishes the testimony of formers members of the IDF and campaigns against the occupation. A cuddly bear of a man he talks incessantly, anxious to explain every detail of his argument. An IDF veteran himself Yehuda says he is treated like a traitor by many and there’s a campaign to outlaw his organisation which has so far told the stories of more than a thousand former soldiers. He says things will get worse before they get better but he is confident that his vies will prevail. “Don’t’ get me wrong” he says “I’m a Zionist. I believe in a Jewish homeland. But the occupation is destroying Israel. It will have to end.”

So with the mood in Israel hardening and the US considering policy change, what should the UK Government be doing? Well, first and foremost, we need to realise that Israel gets away with policies that the world consistently condemns because the world sits back and lets them. If we believe not just in a secure Israel but in justice for the Palestinians, it’s now time to apply some leverage.

At dinner I’m seated beside the UK’s deputy ambassador. He tells us that relations between the UK and Israel have never been better, describing a range of new trade agreements signed in recent weeks. In the next breath he tells us our government is putting pressure on the Israelis over the occupation and settlement expansion. I point out that these two things may contradict each other.

These are good questions he says, but really I should ask them of Number Ten.

So I will. Here’s four things I’ll be asking the UK Government in the year ahead.

  1. In marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, make it clear that there is unfinished business and it is now time to make things right for Palestine. And to make that clear the UK Government should officially recognise the State of Palestine as 136 other nations have now done.
  2. Having supported the UN resolution on 23rd December, now implement it. In particular, issue guidance to businesses making clear the difference between Israel itself and the occupied territories.
  3. Instead of sending observers to international peace talks, step up and take a leadership role. Britain, more than most, has a responsibility for the situation that we have in that part to the world today.
  4. Use aid money to support peace and human rights organisation in both Israel itself and in the occupied Palestinian territories.

‘Former Israeli soldiers speak out against the occupation’

In this article from AJ+, former Israeli soldiers are given a voice, an outlet, by Breaking the Silence to speak out against the unjust occupation of Palestine.

Carol Monaghan MP meets with Rohan Talbot from MAP & Yehuda Shaul from Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence
Carol Monaghan MP meets with Rohan Talbot from MAP & Yehuda Shaul from Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence
 
We were lucky enough to have co-founder of Breaking the Silence Yehuda Shaul with us at SNP National Conference in Aberdeen this time last year to speak to our members, MPs, MSPs & Cllrs from around the country.
Since then Yehuda has been on hand in occupied Palestine to give tours to a number of MPs who have travelled out to see for themselves the situation on the ground.
 
We praise the work that BtS are doing to expose the immoral occupation of Palestine against awful treatment by the Netanyahu coalition and its supporters.
 

Dr. Philippa Whitford spends Parliamentary recess in occupied Palestine carrying out life-saving breast cancer surgery.

Our very own Dr Philippa Whitford MP has just returned from her Spring recess trip to the sun… no, not to some sandy beach, that’s actually not a very safe option where Phillipa has just returned from. No, during Parliamentary recess Philippa has traveled more than 2,000 miles to occupied Palestine to carry out life-saving breast cancer surgery.

Image
Dr. Philippa Whitford MP performs breast cancer surgery on a Palestinian woman.

 

 

“Philippa Whitford, an MP for Central Ayrshire in Scotland and a breast cancer expert before entering parliament, traveled to provide care for a number of Palestinian women, who face an uphill struggle to get quality treatment.

Whitford carried out four major cancer operations in the West Bank last week, before travelling to Gaza on Sunday to advise hospitals there on how to improve their care.

One operation was on a woman with “very advanced” cancer, said the lawmaker, who returned to the United Kingdom on Thursday.

“It was very large in the breast and very advanced in the lymph nodes. She had had chemotherapy, but it hadn’t got a lot smaller and she still had a lot of disease.”

“It was just a difficult operation and we knew it would be,” she said, adding that initial signs suggested it had been successful.

Whitford, who became a lawmaker for the left-wing Scottish National Party (SNP) in the 2015 British general elections, said breast cancer treatment in the Palestinian territories suffered from a lack of planning, resources and Israeli restrictions.

In Gaza, breast cancer kills more women than any other cancer, according to a 2011 research paper by researchers from Harvard Medical School.

There are regular shortages of medicines in Gaza, including those to treat cancer, and no radiotherapy. “Getting anything into Gaza is not secure. You can’t say ‘we get a delivery every month and it will be here and the hospital will be stocked.’ So they are forever running out of things,” Whitford said. She said that, while in England doctors would usually remove just a part of the breast, in Gaza they tend to remove the whole breast –- whether through lack of training or due to limited medical facilities.

image
Philippa Whitford visits al-Ahli Hospital with its medical director Doctor Maher Ayyad in Gaza City on April 5, 2016. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Radiotherapy is available in Israel and East Jerusalem, but Palestinians say travel permits are hard to obtain, border points can be closed depending on events, and some cannot afford the trip.

More than 120,000 Palestinians entered Israel for medical treatment in 2015, mostly from the West Bank, according to Israeli officials.

The lack of quality treatment in Palestinian territories, Whitford said, meant recurrence rates are believed to be more than double those in the United Kingdom.

No delegation of British lawmakers has been permitted entry into Gaza by Israel since 2009. Earlier this year a delegation of members of the European parliament was refused entry.

But Whitford applied and entered as a single doctor rather than in a delegation, thus skirting Israel’s restrictions.

It was a return for her, having worked as a breast cancer surgeon in Gaza for 18 months in the early 1990s with Medical Aid for Palestinians.  She said returning to the Palestinian enclave was like “coming home.”

 

More than 8 percent of Palestinian women develop breast cancer in their lifetime, the Palestinian health ministry says.

But Whitford said breast cancer was for a long time a hidden killer in Gaza due to social stigma.

“When I came [in 1991] the doctors told me there was no breast cancer here,” she said. “As soon as people realized there was a woman surgeon they started to come and I realized there was actually a lot of breast cancer.”

Whitford said she never expected to be a lawmaker, but that her skills helped her in her role as the SNP’s shadow health spokeswoman.

The SNP has also criticized the British government’s lack of firm action over Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

Image
Dr. Whitford, SNPFoP Westminster co-spokesperson, at SNP Spring Conference.

Whitford said the West Bank, which is supposed to form the bulk of a future Palestinian state, is “being moth-eaten — every time I come back the settlements are bigger, they are closer to key Palestinian towns and cities.”

“We need to be saying ‘we don’t want to deal with settlements, we don’t want British registered companies to be dealing with settlement’s.”

 

Via AFP Wire