|The Jewish Week|
Since Israel was founded, and especially during the Intifada of
2000-2004, Hadassah's Jerusalem hospitals have been known as bridges of peace,
where the staff provides its medical expertise equally to people of every
religion, nationality and political persuasion.
Our Arab patient population is especially high at Hadassah
Hospital on Mount Scopus. Part of that population comes from Issawiya, a
neighborhood just down the hill from the hospital. Because the neighborhood
lies within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, residents are entitled to Israeli
social benefits, including national health insurance. More than 20 residents,
including one surgeon, work at the hospital they often affectionately refer to
as "Hadassah Issawiya."
On May 15, the anniversary of Israel's independence, people
coming from Issawiya threw 11 Molotov cocktails and hundreds of rocks at
Hadassah Hospital and also set fires at the back gate. The army responded with
tear gas and hospital security was even more vigilant than usual in checking incoming
patients and visitors for weapons.
But inside, patient care went on as usual. Typical was the
pediatric endocrinology clinic, where Dr. David Zangen and Dr. Abdul Salam Abu
Libdeh treat young Jewish and Arab patients who have diabetes and growth issues.
Palestinian patients and families come in not only from the surrounding
neighborhoods, but from all over the West Bank. "I was aware of the extra
efforts by security, but the moment I walked into the hospital, my only focus
was on my patients," said Dr. Zangen. "I always feel in such
situations that we have to be even more determined to remain faithful to our
values of equal respect and treatment of all."
The atmosphere of violence at the gate and routine patient care
inside is something the staff is accustomed to. There have, in fact, been
periodic attacks from Issawiya, including 87 over the past year, though nothing
as concentrated as what happened on May 15th.
Prof. Zvi Stern, director of Hadassah Mount Scopus, has, in the
past, requested that the Imam at the mosque speak against such attacks. At
least once during the intifada, such an announcement was made. And more
recently, Prof. Stern has asked for representatives of Issawiya to meet with
him, but they have declined.
"We can never let the behavior of a group of extremists
dictate what we do in our hospital," said Prof. Stern. "They want to
destroy the bridges of peace that we are building, and we can't let them."
Prof. Stern sees the increased hostility over the last year and the May 15
attack as signs of growing extremism. "Hadassah Hospital is a symbol of
the State of Israel," he observed.
The commitment to equal care, even amid conflict, is as old as
the organization itself. Built by Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of
America, the hospital on Mount Scopus opened in 1939. Hadassah's dedication to
ethical medicine was challenged almost from the start. In the months before
Israeli statehood in 1948, the two-mile route from downtown Jerusalem to Mount
Scopus had become so dangerous that medical personnel and patients traveled to
the hospital in vehicle convoys. On April 13, 1948, terrorists ambushed a
Hadassah convoy approaching the hospital, killing 78 doctors, nurses,
researchers, patients and students. Among the dead was Dr. Haim Yassky, the
By the end of the Israel's War of Independence, Mount Scopus was
cut off, behind enemy lines. Hadassah Hospital moved to a collection of
temporary quarters until the women of Hadassah built a new medical center in
Ein Kerem. After Jerusalem's reunification in 1967, Mount Scopus was renovated;
it reopened in 1976.
A popular expression says, "No good deed goes
unpunished." It's a true enough statement on human nature that often
evokes knowing laughter. But medicine and ethics routinely take us beyond human
nature, striving for the ideal. At Hadassah, we believe in doing the deed
without regard to the reaction. We treat the patients in our hospitals not
according to who they are, or who we might fear they are, but according to who
The writer is president of Hadassah;
the Women’s Zionist Organization of America