Following years of relentless activism, the Arab-Jewish Citizens Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee achieved a major coup for the residents of Israel’s north: The government announced that it would allocate NIS 930 million to improve health services in the northern periphery.
The amount will be allocated over four years. More than half of the amount is earmarked to increase local health fund budgets for additional medical staff, equipment, and facilities in order to shorten wait times for appointments with doctors, with specialists, and for diagnostic tests. This will be a critical improvement in healthcare for northern residents like Lali Gratzia, a resident of Kibbutz Dafna, who waited four months for a breast ultra-sound only to be diagnosed with cancer that had already spread to her lymph nodes.
The remaining funds will go toward upgrading urgent care and well-infant care. More than NIS 100 million will fund the establishment of sorely needed rehabilitation facilities at Poriya hospital. All of these decisions are in-line with recommendations made by the government’s Grotto Committee for the Expansion of Health Services in the North, for which the activists have been intensively advocating.
And if that weren’t news enough, last week, Israel’s Channel Two prime-time television news aired a two-part exposé on the dire situation of health care in the northern periphery. Lev Aran, Shatil Health Forum Coordinator, explains the significance of this media attention: “Having the most popular TV news show cover our struggle is a major milestone or the Forum and for residents of the north. Two more networks are courting us as well.” The Forum provided many of the personal stories and professional points of view in the broadcast.
“Shatil advocacy and media experts as well as field workers supported and guided our work,” says Lev. “But these achievements are a result of the solidarity and cooperative work of the Arab-Jewish Forum. Volunteers are the source of our strength. What began as a Shatil training four years ago has blossomed into a full-fledged social change movement.”
Still, as Shatil advocacy expert Hovav Yanai points out, “This is a triumph, but more hard work lies ahead to ensure implementation.”
But the Forum is not daunted. In the Channel 2 report, Dr. Naji Bathis (who, as one of the only dermatologists in the Galilee and the Golan, works out of seven different clinics) explains his motivation: “I’m not emotionally prepared to work in private practice; I want to invest in the region where I live.”
“When I hear this, I see a different and healing reality, a truly shared society of Arabs and Jews, with shared responsibility for improving health care in the north: more than a shared life, it’s a shared struggle,” says Shatil’s Lev.