Monday, January 28, 2013

Palestinian babies are just as precious as my new daughter

It is six days since my beautiful daughter Caitríona was born. These past six days have been the happiest in my life.

For many years, I have heard other parents rhapsodize about the joy of seeing their little one enter the world safely. But it was only when I held Caitríona for the first time that I fully understood what they were talking about. The warm glow I felt was better than any previous sensation I have ever had. Magic.

Caitríona was delivered to us a week earlier than expected. I am deeply indebted to the gynaecologist who checked Caitríona's progress in her mother's womb so meticulously. When this gynaecologist spotted that Caitríona was not growing quickly enough last week, she promptly arranged for a caesarean to be performed. Her professionalism and kindness -- and that of many fellow doctors and nurses -- helped settle our nerves as we waited for Caitríona to emerge.

It is marvellous to live at a time when medicine has become so advanced that every step of a pregnancy can be monitored, so that potential risks to a mother and her child can be averted. It is marvellous, too, that my adopted country, Belgium, has a world-class system of health care, as well as generous child benefits. Some American friends of mine were surprised to learn that it is standard for a mother and her baby to remain in hospital here for a full five days after a birth.

Explaining why -- irrespective of income -- Europeans tend to have access to better quality care than Americans doesn't require a doctorate in economics. Belgium spends only half as much per capita on health as the US. Yet though medical insurance here is largely handled by a confusing network of "mutual associations" (often linked to political groups), government supervision has meant that each of them offer almost identical services. Fortunately, we have been spared the marauding behaviour that is so rampant among American insurers, who have been known to block patients from undergoing vital procedures based on considerations of profit and "efficiency."

Defending decency

My daughter's birth has underscored for me why we must fight to protect our health systems from the "reforms" imposed by the European and international institutions. Such "reforms" have fundamentally altered the nature of healthcare in Greece and Spain recently, meaning that the jobless and poor in those countries are finding themselves uninsured. Steadily, our "political masters" are dismantling Europe's welfare states and the decencies that distinguish us from America.

As Naomi Klein explained in The Shock Doctrine, slash-and-burn measures ostensibly aimed at reducing the role of the state are often accompanied by state violence. This partly explains why Europe has been developing stronger bonds with Israel. During both his terms as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has presided over a weakening of the social safety net for Israeli citizens and the tightening of the noose around the necks of Palestinians. Despite claiming to be upset by some of his actions, the EU has been willing to step up its cooperation with him.

Becoming a dad has underscored to me why it is so important to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, without dictating to them how they should resist the Israeli occupation. The most distressing image I saw during Israel's eight-day bombardment of Gaza in November was of Jihad Masharawi weeping as he carried the corpse of his 11-month-old son, Omar. No parent should have to go through the pain that was so evident on that man's face.

No threat

There is a high probability that the weapons used to kill Omar were made by an Israeli company that receives EU scientific research grants. Certainly, other Palestinian children have been murdered with bombs dropped by EU-subsidized firms. That is why I have decided to concentrate on exposing how my tax euros are being used to abet crimes against humanity. And that's why I intend to demand that my money is spent on saving lives, not helping to destroy them.

Palestinian babies are every bit as precious as Israeli, American or European babies or as my darling Caitríona. Israeli apartheid -- a system that treats Palestinian babies as a "demographic threat" -- must be opposed.

I have learned many things in the past few days: how to change a diaper; how every item of clothing designed for babies buttons up differently; how to cope with sleep deprivation. Just as it is important to learn new skills, it's also sometimes important to be reminded of things we knew previously. The advent of fatherhood has reminded me that ultimately we are all equal; that discrimination is the result of decisions by the powerful, not by laws of nature.

Irrespective of what we do in adulthood, we all come into the world naked and squawking. We all need to be cuddled and nourished. We all need love.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 28 January 2013.

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