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Life In Many Voices

25 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 25 February 2012

Within the conflicted context of Palestine, the incidence of debilitating eye disease gets little attention.

But in the occupied Palestinian territories the rate of blindness is as high as ten times the norm in the West.

We follow the story of different people whose lives converge through the work of a hospital with ancient roots that has been bringing modern medical care to a community in desperate need, regardless of ethnicity, religion or politics.

The St John Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem is hugely respected for its work among the scattered Palestinian community, and the fact that staff come from Christian, Muslim and Jewish backgrounds.

It's often the only available source of the relevant medical expertise to the poorest people in the Palestinian communities.

In a region marked by dividing lines, it's seen as non-Christian, non-Western, politically impartial - simply a source of the best care available to those who have the least.

Simple interventions can transform lives. Last year the hospital treated 100,000 cases.

To do so, both staff and patients have to negotiate the fall-out from the conflict, dealing with both Palestinian and Jewish authorities, obstacles to movement, periodic outbreaks of tension and the difficulty of obtaining medical supplies.

The programme weaves together the stories of patients and practitioners - patients who've made the journey from Gaza; the nurse running clinics for the poorest of the poor in remote villages in the West Bank; the theatre staff having to negotiate the security barrier to get to work; the surgeon who can restore an old man's sight with a ten minute cataract operation; and the Jewish consultant and holocaust survivor determined to make available the best of modern medical practice.

A Pier Production for BBC World Service

Producer: Mike Greenwood

(Image: Three children in the remote Palestinian village of Zbeidat in the West Bank, where the St John's outreach team have arrived to set up a temporary eye clinic. Credit: Josh Pulman)

  • Palestinian territories profile

    Palestinian territories profile

    An overview of the Palestinian territories, including key facts, political leaders and notes on the media

    Read more on the BBC News website
  • Middle East crisis

    Middle East crisis

    Latest news, analysis and background on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Read more on the BBC News website
  • A young patient

    A young patient

    A young patient from Zbeidat has his eyes examined by the St John's outreach team.

    Credit: Josh Pulman

  • A temporary clinic

    A temporary clinic

    Producer Mike Greenwood follows the work of the St John's outreach team who have set up a temporary clinic in the Kindergarten of Zbeidat - a remote West Bank village where people do not have regular access to eye care.

    Credit: Josh Pulman



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