Keep It Quiet: Israel Helps Train Gazan Medical Personnel

by Hugh Fitzgerald

The story was reported at Al-Monitor here.

Palestinian medical personnel from Gaza reportedly received training in Israel to deal with the novel coronavirus, raising questions among Palestinians about whether the training came through coordination between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah or perhaps a humanitarian group.

On April 11, Israeli state-owned TV channel Kan reported that Israeli teams have trained doctors, nurses and other medical workers in Gaza on treating COVID-19 patients. The report said a team from Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, held a training course several hours long for about 20 medical workers from Gaza at the Erez crossing.

According to the report, another group of doctors and nurses was later allowed to leave the Gaza Strip for training at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon in southern Israel.

Fathi Abu Warda, an adviser to the Ramallah Health Ministry, told Al-Monitor the ministry coordinated a meeting for 10 doctors from Gaza and 10 from Jericho with Israeli doctors to address COVID-19 and the medical measures needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He said that the training took place March 23 on the Israeli side of the Erez crossing, noting, “The doctors were chosen according to their specialties, which included preventive medicine, epidemiology and intensive care.”

However, Abu Warda said he found it odd that another group of doctors and nurses from the Hamas-run Gaza government had later received training inside Israel without coordination with the Health Ministry in Ramallah.

Why should Abu Warda have found it “odd” that Hamas did not inform the PA of its medical personnel receiving training inside Israel? Had it done so in advance of the training, the PA — infuriated that it had not been involved in coordinating the event — would have tried to prevent it, publicly accusing Hamas of “unauthorized collaboration with the Zionist enemy.” A gathering of medical personnel at the Erez crossing, right at the Gaza border, could hardly have remained unnoticed by Palestinians living in Gaza, but the meeting at Ashkelon inside Israel could have been kept hidden from view, and Hamas preferred that the PA find out only the bare minimum about its dealings with Israel, lest it insist on interfering.

“Four doctors from the Gaza government, including the director of international cooperation in the Gaza Health Ministry, Abdul Latif al-Hajj, received training inside Israel. Six nurses and lab technicians underwent another training session inside Israel, also without our knowledge,” he explained.

Abu Warda noted that his ministry found out about the training when the team left Gaza through the Erez crossing and passed through the PA’s checkpoint. “Everyone was taken aback that Gaza had coordinated such training, since the PA is known for coordinating with the Israeli side, not the Hamas government.”

The PA’s position is clear: not Hamas, but only the PA, should coordinate directly with Israel on health and humanitarian assistance, as on all other matters. It does not want Hamas to share that responsibility, lest it be confirmed as a legitimate representative of the Palestinians in Gaza.

…Abu Warda…noted that the Gaza government also refused to send samples to Ramallah to be tested for the novel coronavirus and sent them to Israel instead. Nor was the Health Ministry in Ramallah informed about the laboratoryt to be established in Gaza with donations from Chinese and Israeli companies. “We only heard about it in the media. It seems that Gaza was able to find a direct outlet to communicate with the Israeli side without us knowing.”

Hamas refuses to send samples to be tested for the coronavirus to the PA, but trusts Israel with such samples instead: mute testimony that, despite all its virulent attacks on Israel, Hamas knows perfectly well that in this health crisis, the Israelis can be relied on to be thorough, and not mislead, while the PA cannot.

Abu Warda stressed that the Health Ministry in Ramallah will not stop sending support to Gaza.

What “support” did Ramallah send to Gaza? Not PPE, not ventilators, nor any training of medical personnel — which is alluded to — that could be discerned at the time. Perhaps Abu Warda can provide details as to all the medical help the PA provided to Gaza at the height of the coronavirus crisis and that escaped the world’s notice.

…A well-informed source in the Gaza government told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the government does not want to talk to the media about the issue, so as not to publicize that there are relations between Israel and the Gaza government. “According to international agreements, Israel is obligated to provide for Gaza’s medical and humanitarian needs,” the source noted.

That is wrong. Israel is no longer present in Gaza as an “occupying power,” and so is no longer obligated under any international agreement “to provide for Gaza’s medical and humanitarian needs.” However, though not obligated, Israel has nonetheless been supplying Gaza with medical equipment. In March, it provided thousands of PPE from its own supplies and delivered tens of thousands of similar items –including 50,000 masks — from other donors. That became no longer necessary, because those PPE began to be produced in Gaza by the Palestinians themselves, in enormous quantities – just one factory in Gaza turned out one million masks in three weeks – and it became the Gazans who were supplying Israel and the West Bank with PPE. The Gazans also started early in April to manufacture their own ventilators.

Al-Monitor learned from human rights sources that coordination for the training in Israel came through Israel’s Physicians for Human Rights, which communicates directly with the Gaza government to provide certain assistance and support. The sources claimed Hamas hides the relationship to avoid accusations of normalization with Israel.

Of course. It would never do to let people know that Hamas had accepted any support from the hated Zionist enemy. That would be a betrayal of the Palestinian cause, as set out in Hamas’ charter: the destruction of Israel.

Tayseer Mohsen, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that these developments show the Gaza government is working to obtain supplies and alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the enclave itself instead of waiting for the PA to respond.

He added, “It seems that the Gaza government has used the coronavirus crisis in its favor, in its relationship with the Israeli side, to examine to what extent Israel can accept a direct humanitarian path between Gaza and Israel, as both sides prefer to deal indirectly when it comes to political issues.”

Reading between the lines, it is clear that the PA was not doing enough for the Gazans in combating the coronavirus. The Hamas government in Gaza was no longer “waiting for the PA to respond” (which obviously implies that the PA had so far not done enough), but was seeking humanitarian help from Israel, which Hamas knew perfectly well stood ready to supply medical and humanitarian aid even to those who endlessly denounced “the Zionist entity.”

Mohsen thinks the training of Gaza doctors inside Israel was covered up to avoid popular criticism, as the news would have been exploited by those who oppose Hamas and the disputes. He further argued that the Gaza government doesn’t want to showcase Israel’s humanitarian side, saying doing so could influence the Palestinian public.

Yes, Hamas might be attacked for accepting such medical training from Israel, from two sides. First, it can be attacked by the PA in Ramallah, which claimed that it was perfectly capable of providing all the training the medical personnel in Gaza needed — though it did very little of this — and could denounce Hamas for going behind the PA’s back and dealing with Israel directly, in arranging for the training of Gazan medical personnel at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. And Hamas also will be attacked by its even more extreme rival in Gaza, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, that continues to oppose any dealings with Israel, even those which benefit the Gazans, as the training of medical personnel obviously does.

Mustafa al-Sawwaf, a political analyst close to Hamas, told Al-Monitor that the PA has provided training for its doctors in Gaza but that the Gaza government had to find a way to train its own. “Human rights and humanitarian institutions may have coordinated the entry of Gaza doctors [into Israel] and the Gaza government doesn’t want to talk about the matter so as not to complicate the issue,” he explained.

Hamas doesn’t want to publicize the fact that its medical personnel are being trained by the Israelis. That might “complicate the issue” by showing Israel in a favorable light to the Palestinians in Gaza, and that would never do. That training might also be used by the PA to depict Hamas as collaborating with the enemy, even if the collaboration consists only in accepting valuable training to deal with the coronavirus. So for Hamas, the less said about Israeli medical and humanitarian aid, including such training, the better.

Ibrahim al-Madhoun, a political analyst close to Hamas, told Al-Monitor, “It seems that since Gazan doctors are under blockade and cannot travel to receive training and attend conferences on how to face this pandemic, they had to train with the Israelis.”

Madhoun added, “Training falls under the humanitarian and service framework, and it has no political or security dimensions.” He stressed that the training shows Hamas is able to distinguish between political and security matters and Gaza’s urgent humanitarian needs.

Just to make sure no one misunderstands, Ibrahim al-Madhoun wants everyone to know that this cooperation of Hamas with Israel — by having Gazan doctors receive training from their Israeli counterparts in how to deal with the pandemic — does not imply the slightest softening of Hamas’ hostility to Israel; such training “has no political or security dimensions.” Hamas will continue to work for Israel’s destruction, only just not while it needs the Israelis to help train the doctors and nurses in Gaza to fight the coronavirus. When the crisis is over, and Gazan lives have been saved in part because of the medical aid, including training its medical personnel, Gazans have received from Israel, Hamas can get back to the real business of living which – as we all know – for the terror group means sowing death and destruction in the Jewish state.

Which leaves just one question: What’s wrong with this picture?

First published in Jihad Watch

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