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Medic: Israeli policies to blame for Gaza health woes

Dec. 6, 2010 5:03 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 7, 2010 10:00 A.M.)
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AFP) - The head of an award-winning group of Israeli medics said Monday the health woes of Palestinians in Gaza and Arab Bedouins living in Israel were the direct consequence of government policies.

As her group "Physicians for Human Rights Israel" prepared to receive the annual Right Livelihood Award in Stockholm, Ruchama Marton said the causes of health problems were often political in nature.

"As a human rights organisation we are, by definition, political, speaking out against violations of human rights perpetrated by the regime," Marton said in a statement ahead of the award ceremony.

"How can one treat the plague of diarrhoea -- either in the occupied Gaza Strip or in unrecognised Bedouin villages -- without addressing its cause: a government policy that denies people access to adequate water supplies?"

While Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, it has imposed a stringent blockade of the tiny Mediterranean enclave, severely hampering the upkeep of basic infrastructure.

The sewage system has been particularly hard-hit, as Israel does not allow the import of virtually any pipes or other metal equipment that it fears could be used by Palestinian militants to make improvised rockets.

Israel's Bedouin population, which numbers around 160,000, also suffers disproportionate levels of water-borne diseases as most live in unrecognized villages without municipal services like water and electricity.

Marton's organization, along with Nigerian environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey, Brazilian bishop Erwin Kraeutler and Nepali community organiser Shrikrishna Upadhyay and his organization SAPPROS, were named laureates of the Right Livelihood Awards -- often dubbed "alternative Nobels" -- in September.

The jury praised the four laureates, who will share a 200,000-euro (273,377-dollars) cash prize, for honoring "the power of change from the grassroots."

Jakob von Uexkull, a Swedish-German philatelist and former member of the European parliament, established the prize in 1980 to "honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today."
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