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The frontline

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 01 March 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:030378
  1. Saleyha Ahsan, second year medical student1
  1. 1University of Dundee

Saleyha Ahsan, a medical student and journalist, tells us of her experiences last summer on the frontline of the conflict in the Middle East

“Put your camera down, and take this man's blood pressure,” said Dr Sabir, as he thrust a sphygmomanometer into my hands. “Be quick, the soldier's coming back.”

I didn't have time to explain that my skills at taking blood pressure were limited to physiology practicals in my first year. Faced with both kit and expectant patient, I recalled last year's sessions with fellow Dundee medical students and, to my surprise, managed to get some useable readings. “Great,” I thought, “It works.”

I was spending my summer break from medical school in Palestine, wearing the double hat of film-maker and medic with the United Palestine Medical Relief Committee. This long running non-government organisation has been supplying medical and humanitarian aid throughout the West Bank since the first intifada of the 1980s and has branches in every city.

During my two month stay I experienced life close to the edge because Nablus was reoccupied by the Israeli Defence Force in August. Medically speaking, there was plenty of business, but the problem was getting to it. Usually a tank sat between us and the patients.

Today the rubble from previous army incursions has left Nablus, a once beautiful ancient Roman city, looking like a tragic building site. The army arrived in the early hours of 1 August 2002, killing two and injuring at least 10 civilians. Both 27 year old Raed Al-Ahmed and 38 year old Noman Abdul-Ghaffar Hussein were shot in the back when they had come out of their homes to see what was happening.

Owing to the Israeli Defence Force's restrictions on ambulances, Raed's body lay for 12 hours on the roof where he had …

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