Enduring Life Under Occupation To Provide Cancer Prevention For Marginalized Palestinian Women

Imagine a four-hour daily commute to work. Imagine that the bus you take stops at multiple points–all passengers forced out, lined up by the roadside, questioned, padded down, bags and possessions searched, ID cards and work permits checked before allowed back on the bus which is thoroughly searched inside, out and under.

This is what the 28-year-old Palestinian breast cancer screening specialist, Elham Edaes faces daily because she is committed to providing cancer prevention screening to poverty-stricken, marginalized Palestinian women living in remote villages lacking access to water, electricity, healthcare clinics, and basic human rights.

Edaes and her husband, Amer El Fararjah (who has a law degree) are graduates of Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University–the world’s only university by a separation wall. The couple has come to terms with Amer’s travel restrictions since he served an eight-year prison term for anti-occupation activities following the death of his brother. They live in Bethlehem’s Area A with their five-year-old son Majd–six miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem within the West Bank.

Since 2015, Edaes has worked at Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) mobile mammography clinic. A program of Lutheran World Federated Department for World Service, in partnership with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), AVH opened in 1948 after the Arab-Israeli war to care for Palestinian refugees.

Since 2009, the hospital’s free mobile mammography clinic has brought cancer-screening, curative services to Palestine’s rural villages, refugee camps and underserved areas. Since last year nearly 2,800 Palestinian women were screened and over 8,600 trained to perform breast self-exams. Edaes, initially barred from entering Israeli territories, has a special “despite the ban” permit from her hospital to continue providing critical healthcare services.

Palestinian Women’s Right To Healthcare

“It’s the basic human and healthcare right of every Palestinian woman to have access to healthcare and life-saving tests and preventions. By raising awareness and providing preventive resources, we can reduce rising breast cancer rates among the Palestinian women,” Edaes explains the impetus for the mobile clinic was countless Palestinian women from remote villages checking into the hospital with stage three and four breast cancers. Breast cancer remains as the highest cause of cancer deaths among Palestinian women.

Less than 20 hospitals and a handful of mammography centers serve the five-million Palestinian population in the West Bank. There are over 56,000 Covid-19 cases in the occupied Palestinian Territories confirmed by WHO. Edaes doesn’t want the pandemic to sidetrack critical healthcare issues and considers the mobile clinic a lifeline for the marginalized Palestinian population whose low education and high poverty levels are compounded with a lack of access to