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Building Bridges Thru Medicine

By Ameinu Office

This post piggybacks on a New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel article by reporter Doug Chandler about Project Rozana, an extraordinary effort to promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through facilitating the treatment in Israel of West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians in need of specialized care, and to train Palestinian medical professionals in those specialized fields. Excerpts follow:

One of the most memorable stories from the three years he served as the IDF’s chief medical officer in the West Bank took place in 2014, when he invited a group of Palestinian physicians to take part in a training course related to trauma, said Adi Leiba, a top medical professional in Israel.  

. . .   Shortly before the course was scheduled to begin, the kidnapping of three Israeli teens from the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements shook Israel, leading to an IDF search operation throughout the West Bank, the killing of five Palestinians and the arrest of 350 others before their bodies were found 18 days later. But despite the escalating tensions, . . .  Leiba insisted that the course take place – and to his surprise, he said, “we had doctors from Ramallah, Hebron” and other Palestinian locales.

It’s a story that Leiba has told repeatedly in the past two weeks, during a 12-day, seven-city tour of the United States, and his point in telling it is to emphasize that cooperation between medical professionals transcends politics.  . . .

The tour paired Leiba with a Palestinian physician, Khadra Hasan Ali Salami, and was organized by Project Rozana USA, part of a global organization that promotes better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through healthcare. Established five years ago in Australia, the organization is now in the process of forming a U.S. board, said Kenneth Bob, its New York-based chairman, and the tour marked its launch in this country.

Bob, . . . who heads Ameinu, a progressive Zionist organization, and both physicians spoke in Manhattan last week at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and at a private fundraising event on the Upper West Side.  . . .

. . .  One of the first challenges involves lining up the permission to get patients out of the West Bank or Gaza, said Salami, 38, a pediatric hematology oncology specialist at Augusta Victoria Hospital in east Jerusalem. In addition to authorization from Israel, West Bank residents need approval from Palestinian officials to receive treatment in Israel while Gaza residents need that same approval and permission from Hamas to cross the border.


Dr. Salami

. . .  Salami is among the relatively few Palestinians, nearly all of them physicians, who are permitted by Israeli authorities to drive from the West Bank to Israel without interruption, she said, but she’s experienced moments at checkpoints at which “a soldier treats me in a very non-polite way.” . . .

This is material that was cut from the Jewish Week article to economize on space:

Their comments at the JCRC last week also appeared to win over Jewish leaders in New York.

“It’s important for our community to be aware of efforts of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who are working together on the ground to improve life,” despite the challenges, said Noam Gilboord, director of the agency’s Commission on Israel and International Affairs, which organized the lunch. “All too often, we’re confined to our own silos of thought, and it’s important to know that the conflict is more than black and white.”

Galit Peleg, consul for public diplomacy at the Israeli Consulate in New York, attended the event and told The Jewish Week later that the project reflects “the reality that Israelis and Palestinians are bound to live together, side by side, and that, therefore, humanitarian projects are necessary. … You have the political level, and you have the people-to-people level. From the Israeli point of view, we don’t see people as our enemies. We see terrorists as our enemies.”

The following is from a background interview conducted by the reporter with Bob Kaplan, director of the New York JCRC’s Center for Community Leadership and a key figure in intergroup relations, and also not included in the article: 

Kaplan says cooperation around healthcare has also been used as a tool in New York to promote understanding between different communities and bring them together.

“Starting in the mid-90s,” he said, “we started organizing and implementing healthcare coalitions in New York. We always choose quality-of-life issues, like healthcare, as an organizing principle for our programs. It brings diverse leaders around the table to solve problems. … It’s really a strategy for creating networks of leaders who know each other and know how to work with each other.”

One current program in which the JCRC is an effort focusing on aging in the immigrant community, Kaplan said. Pairing the JCRC and the Queens Council on the Arts, the project has included trainings and conferences.

Emphasizing the importance of such efforts, Kaplan said that one leader with whom the JCRC has worked closely, Fatima A. Shama, served under Mayor Bloomberg as the city’s commissioner of immigrant affairs. Before that appointment, Shama, the child of Brazilian and Palestinian immigrants, led the Greater Brooklyn Healthcare Coalition as its executive director.

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