Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat spent the past two decades calling for the boycott and isolation of Israel. If and when Erekat recovers from COVID-19 and returns to his family, he might want to apologize to the Palestinian people for depriving them of the superb medical treatment that he himself received at Hadassah Hospital, and might also consider thanking the Israeli doctors who worked around the clock to keep him alive. Pictured: An Israeli border police office that was stabbed in the Atarot industrial zone is rushed to the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Guy Assayag/NTB
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat spent the past two decades calling for the boycott and isolation of Israel. In the past few months, Erekat, a PLO leader who previously headed the Palestinian negotiating team with Israel, came out against the agreements to normalize relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
He and other Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, accused the UAE and Bahrain of betraying the Palestinians and stabbing them in the back by making peace with Israel.
On October 8, Erekat announced that he had been infected with COVID-19. A few days later, as his condition seemed to worsen, Erekat was rushed from his home in the West Bank city of Jericho to an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem: Hadassah Ein Kerem. An Israeli ambulance guarded by Israeli soldiers transferred Erekat to the Israeli hospital at the request of his family and the Palestinian Authority leadership.
The man who worked tirelessly to harm and slander Israel and who condemned Arabs for establishing relations with Israel in the end chose to seek medical treatment in a hospital belonging to the same state he has spent much of his life demonizing.
When he announced that he had been infected with COVID-19, Erekat received an offer from Jordan’s King Abdullah to receive medical treatment in the kingdom. Expressing gratitude to the Jordanian monarch, Erekat did not take up him up on the offer.
Instead, when his health deteriorated, Erekat, along with his family and the PA leadership, ran to Israel for help. Israel responded by immediately dispatching Israeli medics and soldiers to Jericho to evacuate Erekat to Hadassah Hospital, where Israeli doctors worked to save his life.
The irony of Erekat’s decision has hardly been lost on many Arab commentators.
As it turns out, some Arabs are not oblivious to the monstrous hypocrisy of the Palestinian leadership. These Arabs view the hospitalization of Erekat in an Israeli hospital as yet another sign of the double-talk and lies of Palestinian leaders, who, day in and day out, incite their people against Israel — but who run to Israel whenever they feel the need.
Particularly outrageous is the fact that Erekat was admitted to an Israeli hospital for the best medical treatment at a time when the Palestinian government is denying ordinary Palestinians permits to go to Israeli hospitals.
In June, the Israeli non-governmental organization Physicians for Human Rights reported that Palestinian agencies in charge of liaising with the Israeli authorities had stopped transferring exit permit applications that were submitted for medical reasons. The group quoted Palestinian patients as saying that the Palestinian Ministry of Health refused to refer them to Israeli hospitals or cover the cost of treatment in Israel.
Why is the Palestinian leadership depriving its people of advanced medical treatment and health care in Israel? Because this leadership decided a few months ago to suspend all ties with Israel to protest the since-shelved Israeli plan to apply sovereignty to portions of the West Bank. If the plan was never implemented, why are Mahmoud Abbas and his officials in Ramallah continuing to boycott Israel?
Evidently, this boycott does not apply when the life of a senior official like Erekat, who is the secretary-general of the PLO, is at stake. Erekat did not want to go to Jordan. He did not ask Egypt or any other Arab country for help. His appeal went straight to his Israeli neighbors — who, without pausing for a second, saved his life. This was probably the only wise decision Erekat ever made.
Lebanese journalist and columnist Nadim Koteich, commenting on Erekat’s hospitalization pointed out the «symbolic intensity and connotations» of a senior Palestinian official who, «in his complex health ordeal, finds only an Israeli medical center and an Israeli medical team to try and save his life.»
Noting that Erekat had rejected the normalization agreements between Israel and the two Gulf states, Koteich that the Palestinian official’s treatment in an Israeli hospital shows that the Palestinians themselves «are in a reality of full normalization with Israel.»
Koteich wondered why the Palestinians still do not have a modern medical facility more than 25 years after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. «How come the Palestinians do not have a hospital that is fit to treat Palestinians?» he asked.
«Is it conceivable that after a quarter of a century of the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians still don’t have a medical center worthy of the Palestinian specialists working in all the world’s hospitals? The Palestinians took the entire Gaza Strip (in after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005), and instead of transforming it into an economic/industrial zone, it became a miserable camp for political Islam and an arena for the Palestinian civil war (between Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas).»
The London-based Al-Arab newspaper, referring to the medical treatment the Palestinian official received in Israel, said that the fact that Erekat chose to go to an Israeli, and not a Jordanian hospital, was a sign that he «has full confidence in the Israelis despite his public statements against them.»
Prominent Egyptian media personality Ahmed Moussa also weighed in on the controversy surrounding Erekat’s medical treatment in Israel. Moussa said that there are «many questions» about Erekat’s hospitalization in Israel, especially in wake of his attacks on Arabs who normalize their ties with Israel. «There are Palestinian hospitals, there are hospitals in Jordan, Egypt and many Arab countries,» he remarked.
«Many people are now asking why was Erekat transferred to an Israeli hospital? Just a few days ago Erekat was attacking Arabs for establishing relations with Israel. But now he has chosen to be treated in an Israeli hospital. Egypt and Jordan have the best hospitals. Isn’t it strange that Erekat chose an Israeli, and not Arab hospital? The Palestinians need to explain to the public why he preferred to go to an Israeli hospital. I am not the only one asking this question. They must give us an answer. They must explain to us why they took Erekat to an Israeli hospital.»
Moussa’s question is hardly a rhetorical one. It was posed to highlight the hypocrisy of Palestinian leaders.
Palestinian leaders such as Erekat can afford the best VIP medical treatment for themselves and their families while preventing their people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from going to Israeli hospitals. The issue of Erekat serves as further proof that the current Palestinian leadership does not care about the interests or health of its people, but only those who are close to Mahmoud Abbas.
If and when Erekat recovers from his current illness and returns to his family, it would behoove him to apologize to the UAE and Bahrain for having denounced their normalization agreements with Israel. Next, he might want to apologize to the Palestinian people for depriving them of the superb medical treatment that he himself received at Hadassah Hospital.
Perhaps Erekat might also consider thanking the Israeli doctors who worked around the clock to keep him alive. Additionally, he can thank the Israeli medical teams and soldiers who escorted him from his home in Jericho to Jerusalem. Finally, Erekat might inform the world that he regrets having called for the boycott of Israel — the country he knew he could turn to save his life, no matter what harm he had inflicted upon it.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.