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Breaking Barriers: Humanitarian Aid to Palestine and Cuba

Posted on: Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Keywords: Midwives for Peace, Palestine, Cuba, Middle East, LAC, Humanitarian Aid

This post originally appeared in Peace x Peace.

By Yifat Susskind

“They are among the most marginalized people, suffering at the hands of governments playing political games with their lives. In my travels to Cuba and Palestine, I have seen this firsthand.”


“Blockade” and “embargo” are just words, bureaucratic jargon. But they represent very real policies being enacted and supported by the US that are devastating the lives of women, children, and families in Palestine and Cuba.

The suffering caused by these blockades and embargoes is often invisible to many—but not to me, nor to any of us at MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization. That’s because our partners are directly impacted by these policies. They are among the most marginalized people, suffering at the hands of governments playing political games with their lives. In my travels to Cuba and Palestine, I have seen this firsthand.

In Cuba, a small boy with lymphoblastic leukemia is denied US-made drugs that could save his life. He may be the next victim of the shameful US embargo: left untreated, this type of leukemia is fatal in two to three months. Cuba has created a medical system that is a model for the world, putting people’s right to health first. But the embargo bars Cuban doctors and nurses from accessing the medicines they need to save lives.

In Gaza, Palestine, a mother rushes her four-year-old daughter to the hospital. The girl struggles to breathe through a violent cough. But because of the years-long Israeli blockade, which keeps vital supplies out of Gaza, the emergency treatment she needs is missing. Red tape and military barriers stand between her and life-saving care in Israel. To her mother’s horror, the little girl dies.

Tragedies like these are all too common throughout Cuba and Palestine—and these are the stories that I hear from our sisters in both places. While the two countries may seem, at first glance, to have little in common, both have been cut off by embargoes and blockades that limit their access to urgent medical care. Their people have suffered needless, avoidable sickness and death as a result.

MADRE has seized a historic opportunity to make an incredible difference. We’ve located a US-based intermediary licensed to ship medications directly to Gaza, bypassing the usual bureaucracy and red tape, and we’ve been able to renew our government-issued license to send humanitarian aid to Cuba, which we lost because of embargo restrictions.

And, because of MADRE’s unique model of partnership with grassroots women, we already have sister organizations at the ready, prepared to immediately deploy the supplies to doctors, hospitals, and most importantly, the patients who need them most. In this moment, we have the opportunity to save thousands of lives, to overcome damaging politics and reach out to the real people whose suffering has been the result of red-tape and bureaucracy.

MADRE already has a strong track record of helping women and families in both Cuba and Palestine. Until we lost our license to ship humanitarian aid to Cuba because of embargo restrictions, we helped ship millions of dollars-worth of medicines to hospitals there.

For years, we’ve worked with our Palestinian and Israeli partners who have counted on MADRE and our supporters to help them work for peace. In Gaza, hospitals depleted by the blockade have few medical supplies to provide life-saving care. Our support will equip them with urgent medical aid, including sterilization kits, needles, anesthetics and blood for transfusions.

The dollars we raise and the support we send will translate directly into nutritional supplements, antibiotics and vital medical supplies. They’ll become medicines to treat meningitis, cystic fibrosis, asthma, pneumonia and childhood cancer. They’ll buy gauze and latex gloves, and provide missing parts for neonatal respirators, incubators, infusion pumps and pediatric needles that often mean the difference between life and death to sick children.

It’s a simple issue: denying life-saving medicines to children and families is cruel and unethical — and should not be considered a “policy option.” We know what to do to help alleviate the suffering of those trapped behind the blockades. And we know how to do it: by providing urgent humanitarian aid and by advocating to change harmful policies.

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