Israel Blamed For High Rate of Diabetes Among Palestinians


The Israelis are blamed for all sorts of things. They have been accused of poisoning the wells of Palestinians, though no such evidence has ever been found. They are blamed for using “decadent” Western culture to weaken the moral fiber of fine upstanding Palestinian Muslim youths — but that (admittedly deplorable) “decadent” culture is a worldwide phenomenon, that can be found by anyone on the Internet, and hardly requires any hidden persuasion from Israel to assure its enthusiastic adoption by Palestinians. A well-educated and worldly Lebanese Christian lady of my acquaintance once solemnly assured me that Lebanese beekeepers were certain that Israel had let loose in northern Lebanon a strain of aggressive “Israeli bees,” that did not themselves produce honey, but killed the Lebanese bees that did, thereby destroying that country’s honey farmers. No accusation against Israel, no matter how absurd, fails to find its true believers.

Now Israel is being blamed for the high rate of diabetes among Palestinians. That report, from Elder of Ziyon, is here:

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The Lajee Center, an NGO centered in the Aida UNRWA camp, wrote in theirDecember newsletter:

On November 19, 1for3 and Lajee Center presented a webinar on Managing Chronic Disease in Conflict settings, featuring Health for Palestine Director Dr. Bram Wispelwey, Community Health Worker (CHW) Ashghan Awais, Asmaa Rimawi, an advanced medical student and Health for Palestine researcher, and 1for3 Director Nidal Al-Azraq. They presented data from a two-year study that revealed significant improvement in diabetes due to the Community Health Worker program. Palestinians in Aida and Azza Refugee Camps suffer high levels of diabetes and hypertension. Dr. Wispelwey put Palestinians’ declines in health in the context of settler colonialism, presenting on the violence of military occupation and comparing Palestinians’ health to that of Indigenous and Black people harmed by settler colonialism in the United States. Moreover, the Middle East and North Africa region currently has the highest rates of diabetes in the world. While the older generation of Palestinians has lower rates than the rest of the region, middle aged Palestinians have higher rates. Rates for diabetes in the West Bank are twice the global rate and more than twice the rate in Israel.

“Settler colonialism” – a phrase affixed to Israel by its enemies – is not only a travesty (Israelis are not “colonizing” their own ancestral homeland), but it has nothing to do with the high rates of diabetes among the Palestinians. The rates of the disease in the West Bank are not different from that of Arabs elsewhere, and can be attributed to several factors. The first is diet. The Arabs, more prosperous than before, now have adopted a richer diet, with a higher amount of animal fats. Instead of alcohol, they drink sugary carbonated beverages and fruit juices; they drink highly sweetened tea and coffee; the high intake of all this sweetness increases the risk of diabetes. Arab desserts, too, tend to be very sweet, often pastries drenched in honey. Vegetables and fresh fruit are ever less important components of the Arab diet.

The shift, all over the Arab world, from rural to urban settings, has led to more sedentary lives and less physical exercise. The socioeconomic development in some Arab states – especially the fantastic sums of oil wealth –has allowed for higher income and more consumption, especially of Western fast-food, and the rich Western diet. Arabs enjoy socializing, especially inviting guests to their homes for meals; this encourages gatherings and high caloric intake. In many Gulf Arab states, the indigenous Arabs are waited on hand and foot by an army of expats. In Qatar, for example, only 10% of the population consists of Qataris; the rest are expat workers who attend to the every need of their Qatari employers who scarcely have to lift a finger. It is much the same with the Arabs in Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain, and Kuwait. A life of cosseted indolence contributes to the rise in rates of diabetes.

The video of the seminar shows Dr. Wispelway spending some 16 of his 18 minutes talking about his theories that Israel is responsible for Palestinians having high rates of diabetes, blaming everything from the “Naqba” to “settler colonialism” to tear gas to the Oslo Accords.

What he didn’t spend much time on was the fact that the entire Arab world has high rates of diabetes….

The map can be seen here.

The map shows that the Arab world — from Morocco to Algeria – has the highest incidence of diabetes in the world. The Palestinians simply exhibit the same rates – not higher ones – as their fellow Arabs. But we don’t blame the high rate of diabetes in Qatar, or Tunisia, or Saudi Arabia, on Israel.

There is no reason to blame Israel for the high rates of diabetes among the Palestinians. Their rates for the disease are not different from the rates in such Arab states as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, places where the Israelis have had no effect on the health of the populace.

While Dr. Wispelway, a left-wing Israeli, wants to blame the Jewish state for the fact that Palestinians eat too much, have an unhealthy diet, and do not exercise, we know that is a baseless accusation, for these same behaviors are found among the many other Arab populations that exhibit similarly high rates of diabetes, but are without any conceivable connection to Israelis.

Here are the reasons for high rates of diabetes among the Palestinian and other Arabs:

  1. The change from a rural to an urban, more sedentary life.
  2. The increase in prosperity, especially in the oil states, that has inexorably led to a richer diet, with more meat, more animal fats, more starch (pasta and pizza have become favorite foods in the Gulf Arab states).
  3. The preference for sugary desserts, especially those using honey, in Arab cuisine.
  4. The consumption, instead of alcohol (which is haram), of sweetened soft drinks and sweet fruit juices. Diet sodas, too, help cause Type 2 diabetes.
  5. The Arab preference for drinking highly sweetened tea and coffee.
  6. The spread of junk food outlets all over the Arab lands, especially in the Gulf.
  7. The Arab preference for socializing over meals, usually at private homes where for the host it is a matter of pride to lay on a veritable feast.
  8. The Arab distaste for manual labor, and preference for sedentary office work.
  9. The army of expats who in the Gulf Arab oil states vastly outnumber the locals (in Qatar the ratio is 10 to 1), and make it possible for the natives to be waited on hand-and-foot. Such an indolent life-style naturally increases the incidence of diabetes.

But none of those reasons are mentioned by Dr. Wispelway. Why do you think that is?

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