Monday, 13 December 2010

The Galilee Society

After my years in Africa where I had known so many people who had either died from AIDS or were living positively with it, it has been strange to come to Israel and Palestine, where it is not so prevalent and where there is a lesser degree of awareness.

The Galilee Society at Shefa Amr is an NGO, whose HIV/AIDS programme is supported by Church of Scotland, and recently they held a seminar for school counsellors and school nurses to highlight HIV/AIDS and to explore the various challenges faced in talking to youngsters about it, especially in the Arab community, where there is a certain shyness over health issues.

I was impressed by the commitment of the participants and also by their readiness to engage with the AIDS issue. The seminar was organised by Mohammad Khatib, who heads the Health Justice department of the Society, and he also talked to me about a new project regarding awareness of breast cancer among women in the Arab community. The percentage of Arab women with such cancer is smaller than in Israeli society as a whole, but mortality rates are higher, because they fail to take the necessary tests quickly enough. An informative DVD has been brought out by the Galilee Society, including a ‘censored’ version for use when men are present.

Something which the Society is also having to address is the growing violence in the Arab community. The newspapers have been reporting on a number of family feuds which have resulted in the deaths of young people (a bit like Renaissance Italy). On trying to explain the underlying causes for this violence, one lady told me, ‘We do not know who we are. Are we Arab or Palestinian or Israeli? We keep hearing different voices saying one or the other’. Part of it is coping with being a minority in the land, but equally the Israeli Jews have to cope with being a minority in the Middle East.