President’s Column: Peace From the Ground Up
Most of you have seen the corridors and waiting areas of Hadassah’s hospitals in Jerusalem. They are usually packed with patients and families, doctors and nurses. If you visit as a tourist or as part of a mission, you might notice the easy mix of Jews and Arabs in every corner. For those who are there to be treated or see a friend or relative, chances are you are too focused to notice anyone else’s ethnicity.
For almost a century, through wars, terrorism and political tension, Hadassah has engaged in health care diplomacy. Our goal is simply to provide high-level care. Being recognized around the world as a bridge to peace is something that comes not from medical textbooks but from our values. Politics stops at our door. This is Hadassah.
At Hadassah College Jerusalem and at our Youth Aliyah centers, visitors can find Israeli Arabs learning alongside Israeli Jews, although they look so similar it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart. Our hospitals also reach across boundaries, visible and invisible. They treat not only Israelis of every kind, but also Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and Arab patients from beyond. In recent years, Palestinians have come to us for heart and bone marrow transplants, dialysis, reconstructive surgery and a host of other health issues.
Sometimes reporters focus on us—as they did often during the most violent period of the second intifada—as a haven of humanity in a region of conflict. Perhaps the most extreme example of our injury-based ethic of care is when we treat the victims and the perpetrators of terrorist attacks at the same time.
Political leaders on both sides of the Israeli-Arab divide have an obligation to pursue peace, but that doesn’t relieve ordinary citizens of responsibility. Visit our hospitals—or the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, where students from Arab countries share classes with Israelis—and you will see that Hadassah is creating an atmosphere of peace from the ground up.
Recently, however, our ability to promote understanding was undermined when the Palestinian Authority announced that it would no longer cover medical costs of Palestinians for treatment in Israeli hospitals. Since February, Palestinian referrals to our medical center are down more than 80 percent. This has led to hardship and, in some cases, death for seriously ill patients we could have treated. Much as we regret being unable to save more lives, we also lament the loss of human contact with a cross section of Palestinian society.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, a frequent critic of Israel, has protested the Palestinian Authority’s decision and called upon it to reinstate coverage for Palestinians who need life-saving treatment in Israeli hospitals.
In 61 years, Israel has never known a day of complete peace, but there has been slow progress. This spring marks the 30th anniversary of Israel’s peace accord with Egypt—an agreement worked out between an Egyptian president who had once launched a surprise attack on Israel and an Israeli prime minister who had a reputation as a hardliner. As Hadassah continues to promote understanding in its institutions, we wait, and pray, for the next breakthrough in the long struggle for coexistence.
Perhaps one reason political leaders founder on the shores of peace is that they are trying to satisfy entire peoples all at once. And perhaps the reason understanding seems to come more easily to Hadassah is that we take it one person at a time. I don’t want to second-guess anyone’s efforts. Diseases transcend borders, while peace negotiators work to define borders. Medicine teaches us that people of different ethnic, national and religious backgrounds can match for a kidney transplant; but matching a Palestinian and an Israeli for a transplant is not the same as finding compatible views for a political agreement.
But maybe, just maybe, when serious negotiations once again take root, the various peace delegations should spend a few days walking through the hallways and visiting patients at our hospitals. Even if they don’t quite know what they are looking for, they just might find it. H
To respond to Nancy Falchuk’s column or view her monthly podcast, go towww.hadassah.org/podcast.