Wednesday, September 30, 2020

From Beijing to Ramallah: Chinese medicine comes to Palestine

By PM collaborators - November 02, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Ramallah] [culture]

Green tea, Taoism, acupuncture. Where do you expect to find these hallmarks of traditional Chinese medicine? Shanghai? Guangdong? Maybe some bohemian corner of Paris or Berlin? What about Ramallah? Not so much.

But this did not discourage Ousama Habiballah, the first practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine in Palestine. After completing a rigorous degree in Chinese medicine from Beijing University, Habiballah quickly returned home to use his new skills.

But right from the start, the uniqueness of Habiballah’s project created difficulties. “The fact that we don’t have Chinese medicine here made it hard,” he begins. Before he could practice, Habiballah had to get a licence from the Palestinian authorities.
But because no one had ever requested one before, “they didn’t know what to do. 'We don’t know anything about Chinese medicine,’” he recalls bemused officials telling him. Only last month, after a year of phone-calls and meetings, did they finally give him one. A timely intervention by the Chinese ambassador sped the process along.
But even after jumping the administrative hurdles, Habiballah still had the Palestinian public to convince. He says his plans to set up shop in Ramallah were met with surprise and a good degree of scepticism.
But traditional Chinese medicine has actually much in common with ancient Arabic medicine, itself borrowed from China via the Silk Road during medieval times.
For instance, the older generation in the Arab world employ 'cupping’ – whereby cups are placed on the body to determine blood pressure. Traditional Chinese doctors follow a similar practice.
Chinese and Arabic traditional medicines also put an emphasis on the link between psychological and physical health. “We look at the body as a whole unit,” Habiballah explains. “Imagine you say to me, for example: 'my stomach hurts.’ I won’t just look at your stomach. I’ll look at your whole body, your face. I’ll check your pulse. Is it a physical problem, or related to stress?”
The importance placed on mental wellbeing is especially relevant to Palestine. “Many of the problems we Palestinians have are with stress, and Chinese medicine helps with this.” Indeed, a report by the Palestinian Counselling Centre found that the trauma of the Israeli occupation has resulted in many cases of 'somatization.’ This is where people exhibit physical symptoms to psychological illness.
Given that 10% of Palestinians suffer from ailments like “stomach pains and chronic headaches” as a result of depression or trauma, Habiballah’s holistic approach seems especially useful.
Self-medication is also a problem that Habiballah’s methods can combat, given he only uses natural herbal remedies. This is especially crucial given the proliferation of dangerous, unlicensed medication in Palestine.
The condescending attitude of Western-trained doctors hardly helps matters. “They see us as therapists. Some don’t even see us as doctors,” says Habiballah. He pauses. “But I don’t care what they think.”
Neither do some Palestinians, apparently. “Palestinians are tired of using western medicine, and want to try something new,” claims Habiballah. Certainly, his practice seems to be growing at a steady pace. He treats about six patients a day, most of them Palestinians.
Habiballah is conscious that at the moment, his reach is limited. He works at a hotel in the swanky Masyoun neighbourhood of Ramallah. “The price right now cannot be too low. My patients tend to be upper class.”
“This work is only until I get established,” Habiballah maintains. He plans to open his own practice, and provide his services cheaply. Working in refugee camps is high on his list.
And there is evidence that Chinese medicine can make a substantial difference to these deprived communities. After all, it has been used successfully in parts of Africa for decades. In Mali, for instance, there are more than 16,000 Chinese medical doctors.
A big advantage over Western medicine is that Chinese herbal remedies tend to be cheap, and can be grown locally. This is especially important in Palestine, given the high price of some medicines.
In other words, despite all the problems he faced actually starting work in Palestine, it seems likely that Habiballah can make a difference in the lives of ordinary people. For his part, though, Habiballah remains modest. “The most important thing is if I can help the sick people, the ill people,” he says. “I really wish that I can treat some of the problems they have – that’s my only hope.” 

Back to Top

Related Articles

Serbia, Kosovo to normalise ties with Israel
September 06, 2020

Israel‘s top court rules Jewish settlement in occupied West Bank illegal
August 31, 2020

Gaza, Israel tensions rise after bombing retaliation
August 24, 2020

Most Popular Articles

Israelís puppet war unmasks apartheid regime
The El-Hakawati theatre was colorfully adorned to host its annual International

Rushdi Tamimi becomes second victim of Israeli army in Nabi Saleh
On Tuesday November 21st, the body of 31 year old Rushdi Tamimi was

Israel Avoids Hard-Right Shift: No Benefit for Palestinians
With many commentators predicting big wins for the settler movement in

Designed & Developed by: Pixel Co