Editorial by Ron Finkel AM, Chair, Project Rozana International and Project Rozana Australia.
It’s a metaphor I think about often. Since starting Project Rozana in 2013, I’ve felt at times like the fish – I know where we need to go, but circumstances can conspire to challenge us on that journey.
Recent events on the border of Gaza demonstrate that very clearly. The optics are confronting and the shrill from both sides is deafening. But there are hopeful signs; one of the positives is the number of Palestinians who are entering Israel for medical treatment. The rate of transfers has remained steady because health is the most resilient of all the interactions between Israelis and Palestinians.
And the number of Israelis waiting at the border to transport the Palestinians to hospitals in Israel at no cost to the patient or their family is growing.
But we would be fooling ourselves if we assume that the developing relationships we’re witnessing in the health sector are evidence of a wider embrace in other areas of civil society Sadly, that’s not the case.
It’s one of the reasons why Project Rozana is pleased to join ALLMEP – the Alliance for Middle East Peace.
ALLMEP is an NGO that represents more than 100 organisations dedicated to building trust between Israelis and Palestinians in order for people to live in peace and security in societies that protect their human and civil rights.
Established in 2003, ALLMEP is working towards the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, modelled on the International Fund for Ireland which played an active role in creating a sustainable resolution in Northern Ireland.
For Project Rozana to achieve its practical aims of building bridges to better understanding between people through health, we must engage with organisations from across the political and religious spectrum. To do anything less is to potentially deny children an opportunity to enjoy a better standard of health that their counterparts in the First World take for granted.
What ALLMEP allows us to do is expand existing partnerships that already shine a very powerful light on children, particularly those in need. In our short history we have invested significantly in children from Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Syria in the company of organisations including Augusta Victoria and St John’s Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem, Hadassah and Tel Hashomer–Sheba in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv respectively, agencies such as World Vision, and NGOs including Road to Recovery (Israel), Green Land Society for Health Development (Hebron) and the Acre Arab Women’s Association.
People are at the heart of these partnerships and through the pages of this newsletter we celebrate the diversity of opinions,ideas and action that have driven Project Rozana over the last five years.
In their company we swim against the tide of hatred, division and intolerance. We draw comfort from the fact that others share our belief that that the health sector is a template for coexistence, and that Israelis and Palestinians are open to sharing their knowledge for the sake of the children.
The success of Project Rozana is built on a global network of people and partnerships. In this newsletter you will meet some of them.
NEWS, PEOPLE, PARTNERS
JOLLY GOOD FELLOWS
The first two Palestinian fellowships sponsored by Project Rozana USA were awarded in March this year. Their purpose is to encourage Palestinian physicians to continue their training in a needed sub–speciality at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and Tel Hashomer–Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. Each fellowship is worth US $20,000.
The first recipient is Dr Mohammed Majed Rabee Skafi from Hebron, who will be working in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Hadassah. And secondly, Dr Majed Dabur from Ramallah will be doing her residency in anaesthesiology at Sheba.
Ken Bob, Chair of Project Rozana USA., says…
“Funding these fellowships is a key element of Project Rozana’s mantra of… Train local, stay local. Returning to West Bank hospitals, they will help strengthen Palestinian healthcare capacity while having Israeli colleagues with whom they can cooperate in the future.”
Ron Finkel AM, Chair of Project Rozana International, says…
“Encouraging Palestinian health workers to leverage Israeli medical expertise for the benefit of their community is one of the foundational pillars of the organization. There is no better way to achieve this than with a fellowship program. Project Rozana fellowships are offered via a tender process, so we know that the doctors are committed to developing their skills in areas that are needed in the Palestinian healthcare system.”
DR MOHAMMED MAJED RABEE SKAFI [LEFT] RECEIVES HIS FELLOWSHIP CERTIFICATE FROM PROFESSOR EITAN KEREM, CHAIRMAN OF THE DEPARTMENT OF PEDIATRICS AT HADASSAH.
BRIDGE-BUILDING ACROSS BORDERS
JON ALLEN IS DIPLOMAT IN RESIDENCE, FULBRIGHT CANADA AND A FELLOW OF THE MUNK SCHOOL OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO.
Very few people can cross borders with impunity, especially when those borders separate the wary, if not the warring, from one another.
Jon Allen is someone who has traversed these borders — both physical and metaphoric — in his capacity as one of Canada’s most lauded diplomats. Among his various postings, he spent four years as his country’s ambassador to Israel. Eight years after leaving that post, he has found a new role that allows him to continue and deepen his relationship with Israelis and Palestinians.
A relationship, he says, which has been one of the most fulfilling, if fraught, of his time in public service.
Ambassador Allen is a Board member of Project Rozana Canada. The organisation is a member of Project Rozana International, which includes affiliates in the US, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Australia, where it was established in 2013.
Project Rozana’s stated mission is to build better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health.
“I served as Canada’s Amb.assador in Israel at a time when peace was somewhat more possible than it is now,” he says.
“The situation has deteriorated since and Project Rozana offered me an opportunity to participate in an initiative that creates both short to medium-term, health-related benefits while at the same time laying the groundwork for the kind of people-to-people activities that can help achieve peace in the future.”
Amb. Allen acknowledges that there have been and continue to be many successful people-centred initiatives in the Israeli-Palestinian space. He says they’re successful in the sense that they demonstrate how two peoples sharing disputed land can work, learn and create together.
“Project Rozana’s initiatives have achieved ongoing and positive results in the areas of transportation, training and treatment, and that vital mix is unique among the NGOs that are active there.”
THE FOUNDER OF ROAD TO RECOVERY, YUVAL ROTH (LEFT) AND DIRECTOR, ELI SAHAR.
THE EREZ CROSSING IS LOCATED AT THE NORTHERN END OF THE GAZA STRIP
He referred to Road to Recovery, which offers a free service provided by volunteer drivers who transport Palestinian patients and their caregivers from the West Bank and Gaza border crossings to hospitals in Israel.
“The cost of commercial transport is beyond the reach of many Palestinian families,” he says. “This can be particularly onerous when a patient requires frequent hospital visits. Project Rozana supports this service, which has a side but important benefit of allowing people to engage with the ‘other’ in a non-hostile environment.”In terms of training, Project Rozana raised funds to establish the first ever Binational School of Psychotherapy, which is focused on helping Israeli and Palestinian therapists assist young people to deal with the effects of post–traumatic stress (PTSD). The school was established at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem in October 2016 with a donation of US$300,000 from World Vision Australia.“Our most recent project is to fund medical navigator teams in Israeli hospitals who will provide social, psychological and translation assistance to Palestinian patients and their caregivers,” Amb. Allen says.
Israel has a superior healthcare system, acknowledged to be among the best in the world. The Palestinian political and communal elite have been keen to study it and implement those learnings for the benefit of their community. Project Rozana is playing a role through its clinical advisory committee by creating initiatives to fill the gaps, in order for Palestinian society to become self reliant in the delivery of healthcare.
“That said, the current policy of non-normalization that is practised at certain universities in the West Bank and Gaza demonstrates that initiatives like Project Rozana don’t operate in a vacuum,” he says. “The absence of any political progress can have a negative impact on the work of NGOs like ours.” During his recent visit to Israel, his first as a Project Rozana board member, Amb. Allen and his wife, Clara Hirsch, visited hospitals in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories and “witnessed the total commitment of the medical staffs in all the hospitals to their patients. At all but An–Naja University Hospital, there was a keen interest in building relationships between Israeli and Palestinian medical staff and their common commitment to do what was necessary to treat patients irrespective of their nationalities.
“We were struck by how many Palestinian children are being treated in the Israeli hospitals. We also were impressed with what the Palestinian institutions were able to accomplish despite having far fewer resources.”
Amb. Allen believes he can use his previous and current connections to government officials to convince the Canadian Government to partner with Project Rozana.
“I also hope to use my experience in the region and skills learned as a diplomat to help convince potential donors of the importance of Project Rozana’s work,” he says. “This is not the time to give up on efforts to create better health outcomes, and to encourage greater knowledge and mutual respect in the region.”
FINDING COMMON GROUND BETWEEN PEOPLE
“There is no easy solution to the problems that exist, but if there were more Project Rozanas we would at least take some steps to a better situation.”
After a whirlwind tour of Israel, education tsar David Gonski AC learned a few lessons in a field far removed from his own.
The man who is credited with changing the face of Australia’s education system — via a funding model identified in the Gonski Report — saw first–hand what can be achieved in healthcare when two vastly different models are encouraged to coexist.
Although married to a paediatric dermatologist, David has spent the better part of his adult life involved in public service as a philanthropist, businessman and mentor. His passions and achievements are etched into contemporary Australian life, with the arts, education (including Indigenous education), and advocating for young people, high on his list of priorities. His visit to Israel in October, 2017 was ostensibly to join a trade mission organised by the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce. The official itinerary provided an opportunity to learn about Israel’s ground–breaking work in cyber security and separately, to study how schools provide educational outcomes for disadvantaged students.
The visit happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, when Australia’s Fourth Light Horse Brigade broke through the Turkish defences to capture the main town in what is now Israel’s Negev. It enabled British forces to break the Ottoman line near Gaza.
Interestingly, Australia’s role in helping to change the face of Middle Eastern geopolitics, has surfaced a century later in the work of Project Rozana. The organisation, founded by Hadassah Australia in 2013, is now a global health-focused initiative with affiliates in the United States, Canada, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
With its emphasis on bilateral cooperation in health, it is creating new pathways to better understanding between communities which until now has largely stalled at the political level.
It was at the urging of his wife, Dr Orli Wargon, that David and a small group of mission participants with medical training attended meetings with Israelis involved in the medical field.
“When I heard that Project Rozana was to be the subject of one of the meetings, I suggested that our entire group attend,” David said. “I was aware of Project Rozana through Ron Finkel, and I felt it would be beneficial to meet some of the doctors at Hadassah Hospital who were involved in the original case that led to the creation of this important project.”
Equity and fairness, two key values embedded in David’s seminal 2011 education report, are part of Project Rozana’s DNA.
“There were many things that appealed to me about Project Rozana,” David said. “Firstly, I loved the fact that Israel is willing to assist people living in Gaza and the West Bank who need the benefit of superb medical knowledge and experience that is readily available in Israel. “I like the fact that this was permitted by both sides.”
He says no-one could fail to appreciate the benefits available with Project Rozana for very young children in need of assistance.
“The concept of medical practitioners of all faiths and backgrounds working together for a common good was a wonderful thing to observe. There are challenges, of course, including permit restrictions and language barriers, but with goodwill these can be compensated for or overcome.”
David was also pleasantly surprised to learn that Australia is playing its part in the project. One of the Palestinian doctors that David met at Hadassah also completed part of his training at an Australian hospital.
“We were also very inspired by how the doctors we met spoke as a team and that there didn’t seem to be any acrimony despite the fact that not all came from the Israel side.”
According to David, the “fundamental lesson” that was learned by the mission participants was that “we all have a responsibility to look after each other. Working together no matter how many differences we may have is a better way of achieving good health and indeed happiness.”
“I am very strong on the fact that professionals working together fora common cause can often bridge differences and make humans focus on a better cause than disputing each other’s rights,” he said. “Project Rozana does just that and I think all those who have been involved should be very proud.”
It will take time for the Palestinian healthcare system to achieve equity with Israel, but Project Rozana is proving to be a determined and effective partner by funding programs and advocating for people of goodwill to join its initiative.
For David, it’s an important lesson in the role that health can play in bringing out the best in people.
GAZA BABY WITH CONGENITAL HEART DISEASE IN PAEDIATRIC INTENSIVE CARE AT TEL HASHOMER-SHEBA HOSPITAL IN RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL.
DAVID GONSKI AC.
LEARNING LESSONS IS THE MANTRA OF A PALESTINIAN EDUCATOR
Maysa Abu Ghannam unwittingly became an activist and role model when she challenged the Palestinian healthcare system, resulting in a global initiative dedicated to improving the health of Palestinians using Israeli expertise.
Project Rozana, named in honour of Maysa’s daughter, has done more than focus on the inequity between the two healthcare systems. It has shed light on the path that many are preparedto follow, where health is the key to building positive relationships between people.
One such advocate is Dr Mariam Mar’i Ryan, a US-based Palestinian Israeli educator and mentor. Dr Ryan is one of the founders of the Acre Arab Women’s Association (AAWA), a not-for-profit NGO whose goal is to help Arab women improve their status in society (see separate story).
Although the activism of the well-regarded educational psychologist and retired university professor predates that of Maysa, she is buoyed by the example of the Ramallah-based mother of two who refused to accept what she considered to be second-best healthcare.
“What Maysa showed the world, in demanding that her daughter be treated in an Israeli rather than a Palestinian hospital, is that sickness has no nationality, no religion and no borders,” Dr Ryan says.
“It was an uncomfortable truth for many people, but I applaud Maysa’s courage and that of the Australians who created an organisation whose purpose is to raise funds and advocate for an equitable healthcare system in the Middle East.”
Among the many projects that Dr Ryan supports, is one that is aligned with the values and purpose of Project Rozana. Known as ‘Hope, Care and Good Deed’, it was created by AAWA, specifically a group of women from the region surrounding Acre, an ancient city on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, approx. 20kms south of the Lebanese border.
The women had been visiting chronically-ill Palestinian children in Israeli hospitals, mainly Hadassah in Jerusalem and Tel Hashomer–Sheba near Tel Aviv. During the visits when they delivered toys, games, clothing, reading material and organised entertainment, they became aware of the difficulties faced by patients and their companions, many of whom had travelled from the West Bank and Gaza. The permit system, an often labyrinthine process imposed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, takes its toll emotionally as well as physically on family members and caregivers.
MAYSA AND ROZANA ABU GHANNAM AT HADASSAH HOSPITAL.
MARIAM MAR’I RYAN.
Dr Ryan says that the AAWA women were “stunned by the harsh reality” facing the visitors.
“The women were determined to find ways to provide support for the companions,” she says. “It was the small things that mattered, often the chance to talk and share a simple meal, a piece of fruit or coffee.”
“We must remember that inside an Israeli hospital, as supportive as the system is, patients and companions from the West Bank and Gaza come face-to-face with a dominant society far removed from their own. Our Israeli Arab women volunteers relate to them in a familiar language and a well understood cultural–religious context”.
“The difference it makes to the healing process is significant,” Dr Ryan says. “This kind of psycho–social support cannot be over-emphasised. For many patients and companions it is a lifeline.”
It was during these visits that the AAWA women learned about Road to Recovery, an Israeli NGO that transports mainly Palestinian children from the checkpoints in Gaza and the West Bank to hospitals in Israel. Staffed by volunteer drivers, there is no cost to the patient or a family member who often accompanies them.
“A taxi fare from the checkpoints is beyond the financial means of many people,” Dr Ryan says, “especially when a chronic illness requires multiple hospital visits. Urgent healthcare is often postponed, which can cause even more hardship and distress for families.”
Dr Ryan said that learning about Road to Recovery exposed AAWA to the wider role of Project Rozana. Aligning with this global initiative also allows AAWA to tap into a potentially important funding source.
To implement the ideals behind ‘Hope, Care and Good Deed’, AAWA is hoping to raise funds to employ a part–time psychologist or social worker to assist the companions, to provide secretarial support for its volunteer base, and to provide compensation for transportation expenses incurred by the volunteers.
Ron Finkel, Chair of Project Rozana International, believes ‘Hope, Care and Good Deed’ is worthy of support.
“As much as Israeli hospitals try to support companions, the disparity in incomes can make it difficult for them to afford the cost of food when their stay in the hospital happens over an extended period,” he says.
“AAWA’s commitment to provide food parcels, some clothing and personal items is very important. There is also an urgent need for professional psychological support. Young patients in particular need the emotional support of an older companion, so if that person is distressed, it can influence the patient’s recovery.”
ACRE ARAB WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION
Founded in 1976, the Acre Arab Women’s Association (AAWA) is a not–for–profit NGO whose purpose is to help Arab women improve their status through education and economic independence.
Since its founding, it has established early childhood services and programs throughout Israel, trained early childhood teachers, developed culturally suitable educationalmaterial, run a women’s club for the elderly, organized a ‘No Interest Loan’ project to economically empower Arab women who live in the Old City of Acre and, most recently, launched ‘Hope, Care and Good Deed’ to provide for the needs of Palestinian patients and their companions in Israeli hospitals.
Among its goals is to support Palestinian women in Israel in the transition from a traditional society to a modern one; to develop Palestinian women’s leadership skills and help them become independent and confident members of society; to promote the development of early childhood education structures and programs within the Palestinian community; to invest in services aimed at improving the living conditions of Acre’s Palestinian community; and to ensure that the imagery and positive practice of Palestinian Arab culture is transferred to future generations.
THE AAWA IS EMPOWERING PALESTINIAN ARAB WOMEN IN ISRAELI SOCIETY TO BETTER SERVE THEIR COMMUNITY.
A DIPLOMATIC VIEW OF THE MIDDLE EAST
DOCTORS AT ZIV HAD TO AMPUTATE THE LEGS OF THIS 10 YEAR OLD SYRIAN BOY TO SAVE HIS LIFE.
Sitting high above the ancient city of Zefat (Safed) is the Ziv Medical Center. Staff and patients enjoy one of the most beautiful views of any hospital in Israel.
Spread out below them, to the south of the city, is the Sea of Galilee. In the biblical narrative, it was a place where miracles happen, presaging peace throughout the world.
But to the east of the hospital, people are forced to confront a very different reality. Here are the killing fields of Syria, where peace is an illusion and miracles only happen to those fortunate enough to find their way to Israel.
None of this was lost on Dave Sharma, the former Australian Ambassador to Israel who visited Ziv many times during his four-year tenure. But it was meeting the critically and chronically ill Syrians who were transported under cover of darkness from the border to Ziv that was transformative. It was, in Dave’s words, “a profound example of humanity and decency at its most compelling.”
“What I saw was Israel at its very best, and a side of Israel that the world too rarely sees or acknowledges.”
On his return to Australia in 2017, Dave accepted a position on the Board of Project Rozana Australia, one of four affiliates of Project Rozana International. It is an organisation that best articulates Dave’s moral code: attend to the health needs of children and adults without reference to their religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, financial means or politics.
“Ziv, like every hospital in Israel, is a microcosm of how different peoples can get along and thrive if they focus on their common humanity, rather than what makes them different,” he says. “I can see why Project Rozana adopted Ziv as one of its core projects.”
Established in Australia in 2013, Project Rozana also operates in the United States, Canada and Israel alongside a growing presence in the Palestinian Territories. Its plan is to expand into Europe and other countries in the Middle East. Its mission is based on three principles: to transport Palestinians at no cost from the border of Gaza and the West Bank to hospitals in Israel; to treat Palestinian children in Israeli hospitals after funding from the Palestinian Authority has reached its limit, and to treat in Israel children from centres of conflict in the region; to train Palestinian health workers in Israel so they can return to build the health capacity of Palestinian society.
Having navigated the political minefield and risen to the social, cultural and religious challenges of the Middle East, Dave came to the realisation that health is critical to creating a positive relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. He believes that more than any other sector of civil society, health can cut through the antagonism and misunderstanding between people.
“Health and medical care can be an important bridge builder between communities,” Dave says. “Trust is an essential ingredient for any enduring peace settlement.’
“I was attracted to Project Rozana because it is an outcomes-oriented organisation. It seeks to put the difficult politics to one side, and instead focus on what communities can achieve when working together, and the common humanity which unites us all.” Dave also believes that Project Rozana can make an important contribution by promoting people-to-people interaction and empathy.
“This is a necessary precondition for peace,” he says. “Bridges can be built by focusing on what draws people together, even when many other forces seek to drive them apart.”
Dave, his wife Rachel Lord and their three children are back in Sydney with no immediate plans to return to diplomatic life. Until he resigned his last posting, Dave was a career diplomat and one of Australia’s best, judging by the accolades that followed his retirement. He wears his past credentials as a badge of honour; he brings that success to his role with Project Rozana.
NO TIME TO REST ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
At its heart, Road to Recovery is the story of two men.
The first is the founder, Yuval Roth. It was the death of his brother at the hands of Palestinian terrorists in 1993 that set in a motion a remarkable evolution from grieving relative to empowered advocate for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
The second is Naeem Al Bayda, an unassuming builder, farmer of olive trees and a proud and passionate advocate for the right of his fellow Palestinians to receive world-class healthcare enjoyed by their Israeli counterparts.
Between them, they represent an ideal espoused by many, but practised by too few in one of the most volatile regions of the world.Today, more than 1,000 volunteers offer to drive Palestinian patients and a family member or caregiver from the border of Gaza and the West Bank to hospitals in Israel. Almost all of the volunteers are Israeli Jews.
That’s been a source of concern for Yuval since he created Road to Recovery in 2006. He believes more Palestinians need to volunteer, but there was no effective mechanism inside the Palestinian Territories to achieve that.
But thanks to a donation from Project Rozana USA and the support of Hebron-based NGO, Green Land Society for Health Development (Green Land), Naeem was able to transition from a willing volunteer to a full-time employee.
The role of Green Land is seminal because without their involvement, it would have been very difficult for Naeem to fulfill his brief.
That brief is not only to liaise between Palestinian patients and volunteers who operate inside the Green Line, (a role Naeem had already been playing in a pro-bono capacity to great acclaim), but to encourage more Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to volunteer their services.
This has huge ramifications for Palestinians because many are unable to afford the taxi fare from their homes to the border crossings, let alone from the crossings to Israeli hospitals.
Dr Akram Amro, Executive Director of Green Land, believes more volunteer drivers from the Palestinian Territories will encourage more Palestinians to use the free service and thereby receive medical attention in Israel.
While that outcome is constrained to some extent by the permit system, which involves a complex and often conflicted relationship between the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza, it remains the best option for people needing expert medical care that isn’t always available in the West Bank or Gaza.
There is no doubt that Israel has a superior standard of healthcare to that which exists in the Palestinian Territories. Even so, there are highly-trained medical and therapeutic healthcare professionals in Palestinian hospitals, many of whom trained in Israel. But the imbalance is stark and it was the reason that Project Rozana was established in Australia in 2013.
A PALESTINIAN FATHER FROM THE WEST BANK AND HIS SON WHO RELY ON ROAD TO RECOVERY.
FUNDING FROM PROJECT ROZANA HAS ALLOWED NAYEEM AL–BAYDA TO TAKEUP THE POSITION OF WEST BANK CO-ORDINATOR OF ROAD TO RECOVERY.
A PERFECT PARTNERSHIP
GREEN LAND TRAINING COURSE IN HAIFA.
Since its founding in 2007, Green Land Society For Health Development has become one of the outstanding health-related, not-for-profit NGOs in the West Bank. Its role is to improve the health status of Palestinian society through training and education of Palestinian health professionals.
It also set up innovative health services, initiated health research, is a leader in the development of environmental health programs, and it is helping to build preparedness and resilience in disaster management.
DR AKRAM AMRO.
Dr Akram Amro, Executive Director of Green Land, praised the work of Project Rozana for helping to “shine a light” on the health needs of Palestinian society.
“Cooperation is crucial,” Dr Amro said, “so when we were asked to partner with Road to Recovery, we could see the many benefits it offered Palestinian society.
“Even though medical treatment is covered by the Palestinian Authority, the cost of private transportation is not, and this can be beyond the capability of many patients and their families. “A return trip in a taxi from Hebron to Haifa, for example, can cost 600 ILS (US$170). That is one of the reasons why we were happy to auspice Naeem Al Bayda. There are thousands of Palestinians who have received medical support in Israel thanks to Naeem and Yuval, and their example has helped to create a pathway towards better understanding between our communities.”
Dr Amro is highly-regarded in Palestinian society. He has a Master’s in Public Health with a focus on rehabilitation. He says Israelis and Palestinians have much to learn from each other and health is one of the most accessible areas for that to happen. He says…
“Project Rozana is an organisation dedicated to humanitarian outcomes. Its focus is on the health needs of our two peoples, and we applaud the fact that so many of its workers are volunteers who are motivated by these higher ideals.”
HEAVEN AND HELL: LIFE FOR A HOSPITAL IN A CONFLICT ZONE
ZIV HOSPITAL OVERLOOKING THE SEA OF GALILEE.
Living close to hostile borders is the ever–present reality for the medical staff of Ziv Hospital.
Located in the Israeli city of Zefat (Safed), this picturesque, mountain-top community first mentioned in the writings of Josephus more than 2,000 years ago, is close to both Syria and Lebanon.
Festering on these borders are armed groups dedicated to Israel’s destruction, among them the Iranian proxy Hezbollah, ISIS, Al Qaeida, an assortment of Syrian rebel groups, elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and Bashar al-Assad’s Iranian and Russian-backed Syrian army.
Every one of these armed groups is battle–hardened and fanatical. It wouldn’t take much for the conflict to spill over the border, says Professor Anthony Luder who believes that war in 2018 is highly likely.
Prof Luder is not a political scientist, nor is he a military or intelligence expert. He is Director of Pediatrics at Ziv and a Vice-Dean of Clinical Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine at Bar Ilan University’s Galilee campus. It is his business to know what his hospital is likely to face in the foreseeable future and to plan for it. The fate of his patients and staff demands it.
It is hard to reconcile how medical staff at Ziv, Israel’s most northern hospital which can trace its roots back to 1910, cope day-to-day with the knowledge that they are, quite literally, on the front line in any war involving Syrian and Lebanese combatants.
Lebanon is barely 11 kilometres away as the crow flies; Syria is slightly further. In spite of this encroaching reality and the frequent reminders that war is one misstep away, Ziv has become a beacon of hope for thousands of ailing Syrians who might otherwise die if not for the dedication of the doctors and nurses at Ziv and their counterparts in the Israeli army.
Not surprisingly, at least 20% of the Syrians who make their way to the border of Israel and from there to Ziv,are young children. That does much to explain why Prof Luder has welcomed the support of Project Rozana.
Project Rozana first visited Ziv in early 2017 after learning about the hospital’s outreach to the Syrian community. It is committed to funding the life-saving work of the paediatric department, with a special interest on the dire situation facing the Syrian children.
As Prof Luder explains, the arrival of the Syrians began in February, 2013 quite by chance.
“With medical services all but gone in the south west of Syria because of the ongoing civil war, people were desperate for help,” he tells us during a recent visit to Australia.
“The IDF first encountered a small group of Syrians on the border and created a makeshift triage post to attend to their injuries. Shortly after, Ziv and other hospitals in the north and centre of Israel also took on responsibility for these desperate people as we encountered evermore complex medical conditions.”
Since that first trickle of sick and injured Syrians came to the border to seek help from a country that remains officially their bitter enemy, the flow has become a flood. Many thousands now seek help and Ziv has reconfigured its facilities and services to cope with the influx.That has involved a significant financial cost that the hospital is unable to recover from the Government or health funds. Despite its impact on their financial health, the management of Ziv has refused to curtail its outreach.
Prof Luder explained that there were other consequences for the hospital and its patient cohort that were neveranticipated. Some of the Syrians arriving at Ziv have bacterial infections that are no longer seen in Israel. The cause is the lack of medical services because of the war and the fact that many of the country’s medical personnel have been killed or fled the warring regions if not the country itself.
“We need to isolate them from our general population until their condition stabilises, and that involves a significant financial cost to the hospital,” he says. “We also have to buy duplicate equipment, even basic things like stethoscopes and patient monitors, to avoid cross infection.”
“Support from organisations like Project Rozana is critical because we will not turn patients away but we are paying a price for that.”
Over the passage of time and with experience and growing confidence, Ziv is also offering a day patient program to the people of south-west Syria. Every two weeks, busloads of children and adults arrive at Ziv for their medical needs. They are attended to by medical staff and returned to the border at night with medical supplies, clothing, toys for the children and food. Patients that require hospitalisation are assessed and admitted.
As far as possible this is conducted ‘under the radar’ so as not to alert hostile armed Syrian groups who could put these patients’ lives at risk. For that reason, any paperwork generated by hospital staff is in English with no identifying marks.
“We can’t change the dynamic in Syria,” Prof Luder says, “but we can give these people hope and some relief. We don’t prioritise care on the basis of age, religion, gender, financial means or nationality. Our sole criteria are the physical wounds and increasingly the psychological needs of the people.”
“Some believe that Zefat, with its long and proud religious tradition would be indifferent or even hostile to the influx of Syrians, particularly men of so-called ‘fighting age’ who are sworn enemies of Israel. In fact, the majority of the local population has welcomed these people with open arms, providing clothing and toys on an unprecedented scale.
“This is truly heartwarming for us and an affirmation that love and mutual respect will triumph over ignorance and hate.”