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St John Eye Hospital, Jerusalem

September 1, 2010
Exterior St John Eye Hospital

Exterior St John Eye Hospital

There was a sobering Dispatches on Channel 4 recently about  first cousin marriage.  The children of these liaisons can be born with severe medical problems and degenerative genetic conditions – frequently related to sight and hearing . The medical facts  remain largely unacknowledged throughout the practicing community, as well as in circles where it’s considered un-PC to address certain cultural issues in case it’s seen as criticism of that community as a whole

I watched with particular interest, as I recently visited the St John Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem . This extraordinary clinic works with the children who are born with, or develop, eye problems –  often due to the first cousin marriages common throughout Palestine.  The present hospital is a gracious building, erected 50 years ago on a site  in Sheikh Jarrah.  It’s in pleasant , welcoming golden brick,  set in gardens of a lushness both mediterranean and surprisingly English.

The Director , a lovely man called Rod Bull, showed myself and my photographer partner around , gave us welcome iced tea and told us something about the work of the hospital, which was originally established 128 years ago . With a mixture of Arab and Israeli staff, they treat children,  young people ,  and occasionally adults,  who come to them from Gaza and the West bank. They also run outreach units all over Palestine. The achievements are the more amazing for the  remarkable spirit of co-operation displayed by the diverse staff –  giving their time and sharing their skills, often for nothing. I was tremendously impressed by the goodwill ,  tolerance and affection evident throughout the hospital . Even the patients were smiling. It’s living proof that no matter how fundamental the differences  between people,  when there is a will to overcome them – there is a way.

I’ll be writing more about the hospital and its work  – but I wanted to share these thoughts asap.

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