Wednesday, April 13, 2011

13-Apr-11: Ready for statehood? [Part 1]

The Lancet's indictment of Israel's impact
on Palestinian Arab pediatric health is here.
The BBC gives prominence today to a report that
"The government in the West Bank is largely ready to govern a Palestinian state, the United Nations has said. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has successfully built some institutions and public services required for a future state, the UN said... "In six areas where the UN is most engaged, governmental functions are now sufficient for a functioning government of a state," said the report released by Robert Serry, the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process (Unsco). It says the Palestinian Authority - which has limited self-rule government in the West Bank - has built up areas such as governance, rule of law, health and social services, and infrastructure up to a level expected of a state."
This is interesting. Evidently it is important that the Abbas regime be perceived as having done good things so that the nations of the world can give it recognition as a country.

Good things are good. We are sure that when the Palestinian Arabs have something good and constructive going on in their lives - something worth protecting - then things will be much better for us, their neighbours. It's when they are cheated of good things by the thugs and kleptocrats who have ruled them for decades (Arafat of course, and those who came with him and after him) that terrorism is seen as a legitimate response.

So here is why we find this BBC report, and what is happening at the UN, so disturbing. There are two specific issues.

First, the Serry report, entitled "Palestinian State-building: A Decisive Period", speaks highly of the PA's health system:
"The health care system in the oPt is well developed in areas under PA authority; the range, quality and availability of public health services in oPt and key health indicators, such as infant mortality and life expectancy, bear comparison with those in neighbouring states such as Egypt and Syria."
This is echoed by findings released this week as well in a World Bank report called "Building the Palestinian State: Sustaining Growth, Institutions, and Service Delivery" (online here). To give just one instance of how well their health system is doing:
"Among children under the age of 5, only 11.5 percent suffer from stunting (low height for age) and a mere 1.4 percent from wasting (low weight for height). In the average middle income country, 3 out of 10 children are stunted, i.e. more than three times the figure for WB&G [West Bank and Gaza]. Performance in terms of wasting incidence is even more compelling: one in 10 children in a middle income country suffers from wasting, i.e. the rate is 7 times lower in WB&G."
Elder of Zion has done some excellent digging around to remind us that what today is presented as a great achievement by an "outstanding performer" (referring to the PA) was presented just two years ago as the opposite. No prizes for guessing whose fault it was.

The BBC's 2009 analysis was called "Palestinian health care 'ailing'" (online here). An opinion piece penned by a Harvard researcher in the New York Times (online here) was called "Gaza’s Stunted Growth Problem". Both confidently made the same point by quoting the British medical journal The Lancet which asserted that "the trend for stunting among Palestinian children is increasing, and that there is a concern about the long-term effects..."

According to the NY Times:
"Stunting, which is caused by chronic malnutrition and affecting cognitive development and physical health, poses a serious threat to normal childhood development and may cause severe health problems for children in the future. The report’s conclusions that the main reasons for the ailing Palestinian health system are the occupation, the recent conflict in Gaza, and inter-Palestinian fighting stress the need for an honest assessment of the health situation within the context of broader Israeli-Palestinian peace talks."
The BBC adopted The Lancet's assertion that "10% of Palestinian children now have stunted growth" and left readers with the clear impression that this is somehow a terrible statistic.

But it's not. The April 2011 World Bank paper we just mentioned says: "Among children under the age of 5, only 11.5 percent suffer from stunting (low height for age) and a mere 1.4 percent from wasting (low weight for height). In the average middle income country, 3 out of 10 children are stunted, i.e. more than three times the figure for WB&G."

Strange how this works. A 10% stunting rate in 2009 is an indictment of the Israelis who are somehow responsible for the health and growth of Palestinian Arab children. And an 11.5% rate for the same bad thing in 2011 somehow becomes a clear sign that the Palestinian Arab authorities are running their health system well.

We all need to draw our own conclusions - not so much about stunting and children's health (which are very important) but about the cynical way reporters and editors of the news twist and distort to fit their ideological agendas.

But there's more. As uplifting as it is to know that the Palestinian Arabs have a government good enough to be allowed to join the community of nations (maybe), there's another report released this week that suggests they remain stuck in the same self-inflicted black hole as they occupied for the past sixty years. We are about to post a separate blog entry that looks at this in the next few minutes.

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