First Palestinian animated film scans breast cancer

RAMALLAH, West Bank Mon Jul 6, 2009 11:52am EDT

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters Life!) - The true story of a Gaza woman's lost battle against breast cancer has been commemorated in the first commercial animated film made in the Palestinian territories.

"Fataneh" was inspired by the plight of 28-year-old Fatma Barghout, who died in 2004, and the humiliation and frustration she suffered in trying to enter Israel for treatment during a Palestinian uprising.

Director and animator Ahmad Habash said the 30-minute film, funded by the World Health Organization and based on findings by the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights (IPHR), took an even-handed approach.

"There were doctors that tricked the girl and those that helped her on the Palestinian side. And on the Israeli side there were people who helped her, and those who didn't," Habash said.

In the film, the female character named Fataneh finally gains admission to Israel's Tel Hashomer hospital with the help of the Israeli physicians' group after being entangled by Israeli and Palestinian red tape.

Palestinian doctors had brushed off the woman's concerns over a lump in her breast. One tells her to loosen her bra, while another makes light of her condition by saying: "Those things tend to go away with marriage."

The film's climactic scene occurs at Israel's Erez checkpoint on the Gaza border, where cancer-weakened Fataneh is aggressively made to disrobe for an Israeli security check, exposing the two mastectomies on her chest.

At the film's premiere in the West Bank city of Ramallah, one viewer said the movie was a depressing but accurate picture of how Palestinians are "treated as less than human beings" in trying to receive proper health care.

OUTSIDE TREATMENT

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, about 300 Palestinians request treatment outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip every week.

Health services are particularly stretched in the Gaza Strip, where Israel tightened border restrictions after Hamas Islamists took over the territory in 2007.

Conditions deteriorated further during the 22-day offensive that Israel launched last December with the declared aim of curbing cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said some 24,000 Palestinians received medical treatment outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past two years.

According to the IPHR, many of those patients asked to be treated in Israel, but after the Gaza offensive the Palestinian Authority initiated a new policy of sending them there only if medical care was unavailable in the West Bank, Egypt or Jordan.

Ran Yaron, a spokesman for the IPHR, said that while only 1.5 percent of requests for treatment in Israel are denied by Israeli security services, leaving the Gaza Strip is "an almost impossible mission for Palestinians."

He said bureaucracy, as well as delays at the Israel-Gaza border, result in more than half of prospective patients from the Gaza Strip missing their appointments in Israel.

Israeli troops and settlers pulled out of territory in 2005. But Yaron said Israel is still an occupying power, with a responsibility to treat Gaza residents, because it continues to control the enclave's borders and the entry of medical supplies.

The film, which has been translated into English and Hebrew as well, will be presented at film festivals in Venice, Toronto, and Dubai, before being shown in the Palestinian territories.

Habash and Andony said they hope to show Fataneh to U.S. audiences but there were no immediate plans to screen the film in Israel, although they would welcome the opportunity.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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