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Building Bridges to Peace through Medicine

Marcie E. Natan

The rationale for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is based on generalities—many of them uninformed—about how different populations live, work, study, and co-exist in the region. In reality, Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, collaborate and cooperate on a daily basis in a hundred arenas.

Medicine is one of those arenas.
At Hadassah Medical Organization’s two hospitals in Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs work side by side—doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators—in a life-and-death struggle with sick and broken bodies. Over one million patients a year are treated there, without regard to race, religion, or nationality. This is not new. It’s been the case since Hadassah opened its first hospital in Jerusalem in 1918.

Partnerships between Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO), Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School, and Palestinian hospitals and health organizations are too numerous to detail here. They include extensive training programs for Palestinian midwives, paramedics, emergency medicine and trauma physicians and nurses, both at HMO and in the Palestinian territories.

In one such collaboration, HMO is part of the Peace in Sight program, which trains doctors and nurses in ophthalmology to serve at the St. John Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem—the primary center for specialized eye care in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This partnership is critical, since Palestinians suffer unusually high rates of blindness. Some of the funding for this initiative comes from the U.S. State Department.

Additional programs in neonatology, dental medicine, pediatric cardiology and more bring together Israelis and Palestinians in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation. Medicine is a common denominator among peoples. It sees past ethnicity, past religion, to our shared humanity.

Medicine is a path to peace.
Kameill Husseini, Palestinian writer and founder of the first Palestinian communications firm, took his mother to Hadassah for cancer treatment over a period of a dozen years. In an article in the widely read Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, he says, “At Hadassah, it doesn’t matter who you are; they encourage you to fight the disease and other dangers that are much more important than all our wars. … In the treatment rooms, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs unite in searching for a cure, in praying to their God. They all rise above the conflict and hate, and become humans.”

Last spring, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Health, Dr. Hani Abdeen, visited patients in the pediatric hemato-oncology department at HMO, where 30 percent of the children are Palestinian. Learning that about 60 Palestinian doctors are doing their residencies at Hadassah’s hospitals at any given time, Dr. Abdeen noted the importance of developing specialties that are lacking in the Palestinian Authority, including anesthesiology, interventional radiology, cardiac care and pediatrics. “I understand that I am the first Palestinian Minister of Health to visit our patients in an Israeli hospital,” he said. “We’re here to find ways to further collaborate.”

We hope that those advocating for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions take stock of what is working in Israel, and realize there are better ways to bring people together. There are more effective paths to peace.

Date: 2/28/2014 12:00:00 AM

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