NEWSLETTER APRIL 2020

EDITORIAL COMMENT

BY RON FINKEL AM

It was only a matter of a few weeks ago that I returned to Australia after attending Project Rozana’s inspiring, informative and moving International Directors Mission to Israel and Palestine. Catching up with our fellow directors is always a cause for celebration. But this time, our joy was tempered with the increasingly distressing news about the coronavirus pandemic.

It was still referred to as an epidemic when we arrived in Israel, but the signs that this was a growing problem were everywhere. So the question became, how will it impact on the people and the programs we support? And, how well are we positioned to deal with the growing threat?

Firstly, it was important to make sure that we had the funds in place to support our existing programs. And secondly, we had to work within the capacity of the people who have been tasked with delivering our existing programs. The reality is that some of the programs we were hoping to rollout in 2020 have been put on hold.

To that extent, the timing of our mission was perfect. Not only were we able to speak to our partners in person, but to see what they were doing to mitigate the challenges ahead. And importantly, we were able to work with them on how best to support their activities going forward into uncharted territory.

Our role now is to assess what additional funds may be required for the essential services to continue going forward that we are already committed to. Each service, in each of the key areas that underpin the work and philosophy of Project Rozana – namely, Transport, Treatment and Training – have proven to add to people’s quality of life and in many instances, to save lives. So decisions we take are critical.

As you will read in this news bulletin, our existing programs are highly-targeted to meet the needs of their respective demographics. Their ongoing success is demonstrable and proudly so.

Since our founding in 2013, Project Rozana has been committed to supporting initiatives in health, which is the one area of civil society where Israelis and Palestinians meet on a daily basis and with mutual respect. We know with certainty that we can bridge the divide by building a better understanding between communities through the health-related programs we support.

The examples are everywhere, and at this most difficult of times, they stand out in stark relief. Let me reference an article that appeared recently in The Christian Science Monitor. It read in part…

Palestinian health care professionals have received training in Israeli hospitals, Israeli labs have analyzed Palestinian COVID-19 diagnostic tests, and doctors on both sides are sharing data.

‘In the end, this isn’t something related to politics. This is something human, for the benefit of everyone,’ says Mariana Alarja, chief manager of the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala, next to Bethlehem, where dozens of Palestinian coronavirus patients are staying in quarantine.”

Let me also pay tribute and a debt of gratitude to the volunteer drivers who work with three services that fall under the umbrella of our transport initiative, ‘Wheels of Hope’.

On the Israeli side, Road to Recovery and Humans without Borders are operating under enormous pressure, as the situation in the community deteriorates. Some drivers have fallen ill, some are required to self-isolate, while others have chosen not to drive out of concern for their own health and the health of family members. Yet people turn up day after day, meeting patients at the checkpoints, driving them, reassuring them, and proving yet again that the ‘other’ needs to be supported.

On the Palestinian side our Wheels of Hope partner, the Hebron-based Greenland Society for Health Development (GLSHD), has attracted around 150 mainly young Palestinian volunteers. This is an inspirational story because our message of hope, resilience and mutual respect resonates ever louder as GLSHD builds its driver base. These people are driving an ever-wider arc, from the larger cities to small and often remote villages. It can mean starting before dawn to drop patients off at the checkpoints, then returning at night to bring them home.

I also want to pay tribute to our many donors. Thank you for your messages of assistance and encouragement. Philanthropic support can never be taken for granted especially in times of dramatic economic upheaval. However, we have some of the most supportive funders who are dedicated to our mission, and I am absolutely confident that the support is not only robust but ongoing.

While we are all distant, working from home and socially more isolated, we’re planning to embrace technology and hold illuminating webinars for you to remain informed and updated about our projects and programs. More details to come.

Meanwhile, on behalf of all of us at Project Rozana, here in Australia and with our affiliates in Canada, the United States and Israel, I urge you to keep safe. Together we will emerge stronger than ever and even better placed to deliver on our vision for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians.

Ron Finkel AM

Chair, Project Rozana International and Project Rozana Australia

 

COOPERATION IN TIMES OF CORONA

To even the most discerning eye, a sandy desert is little more than a monochromatic expanse where very little grows.

But when the rain comes, almost within the blink of an eye that wasteland blossoms and it transforms into something quite magical. It challenges what we see and therefore our beliefs, and in turn we can see what is possible.

This is how Project Rozana came into being. We saw what was achievable between Israelis and Palestinians through the prism of health. COVID-19 has opened the eyes of others who are also seeing how two communities can work together, when they face an existential crisis.

Although there has been pushback from some, the prevailing voices are becoming ever more powerful as people realise on a personal level that we risk losing those we love, and on a societal level, the future is better if we face the crisis together.

This is not an aspirational sentiment, but the reality. And increasingly, Palestinians and Israelis are coming to see the COVID-19 as the common enemy. Saving one community will save another because the learnings are universal and must be applied universally if they are to take hold. The fight is not in the parliaments, the streets or the media, but in the wards of hospitals large and small, tertiary or makeshift. It is the health sector that defines the combatants and their allegiances, as the following examples demonstrate…

Palestinian health workers handling a coronavirus test sample of Palestinian workers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint in Tarqumiya on March 25, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90) (Times of Israel)

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Ahmed Deek, a senior Foreign Ministry official in the Palestinian Authority, said on the record that cooperation with Israel is “necessary and important as it serves a humanitarian purpose because the outbreak is a danger to all.”

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Israel has significantly assisted the PA in its struggle to stem the spread of the virus, and the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres has praised the cooperation between Israel and the PA on the issue.

Guterres said that “Israelis and Palestinians are a prime example of cooperation in the fight against corona.”

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Israel’s President Reuben Rivlin called Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and gave official confirmation of the contacts that have been taking place since mid-February.

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Israel Defence Force’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) recently delivered 3,000 testing kits for detecting coronavirus and 50,000 protective masks to the PA.

COGAT published the Israeli health ministry guidelines on prevention and protection from the virus spread and ways to deal with contagion and outbreak in Arabic.

Civil Administration Health Coordinator Dalia Basa said Israel will continue to assist the PA “both as an Israeli interest and for humanitarian reasons.”

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Israel delivered respirators to eastern Jerusalem hospitals, Al-Makassed and St. Joseph.
“There is direct, daily contact with Israel’s Ministry of Health for the fight against corona,” a source at Al-Makassed said.

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The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov briefed members of the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the European Union, the United States and Russia) about the effects of the coronavirus on the situation in Gaza. He stressed the “excellent coordination and cooperation that has been established with Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors” including the entry of critical supplies and equipment into Gaza.

These include swabs for collection of samples and other laboratory supplies required for COVID-19 testing and Personal Protective Equipment to protect health workers. This is in addition to Israel’s cooperation to allow for the movement and access of personnel involved in the COVID-19 response to and from both the West Bank and Gaza.

Jamie McGoldrick, who coordinates the UN’s humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, took to Twitter to “commend the Palestinian and Israeli authorities for their efforts to deal with COVID19 and for the exemplary levels of collaboration. Their close coordination and prompt actions will save lives.”

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Elhanan Bar On, director of the Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response at Sheba Medical Center, said professional relationships between Israelis and Palestinians date back at least two decades.

“Our team travelled to Jericho, to see their facilities and we provided their professionals with a long session, sharing what we know and listening to what they need, and how to adapt what we do at Sheba, where we have high-tech equipment that they do not have. We followed up with visits in East Jerusalem, and met in Israel with groups from the Gaza Strip. We are also making ourselves available through the phone.”

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On the Palestinian side, Unipal 2000, a Gaza clothing manufacturer based in Gaza City, has converted its factories to produce surgical masks and other protective gear, which they are selling to Israel. A spokesman said they have already signed contracts with Israeli business partners to provide one million masks and 50,000 protective suits by the end of April.

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Noa Schusterman, Research Assistant to the Director General of Institute for National Security Studies and its Israel-Palestinian Research Program Coordinator, said that the Palestinian Authority has been completely open about its cooperation with Israel.

“The PA knows that their public trusts the Israeli capabilities more than they trust the Palestinian Authorities in matters like these. In fact, this cooperation boosts the position of the PA in the eyes of its own people.”

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“Whenever there’s a crisis that affects the people’s health, collaboration should be possible,” Dr. Zahar Nazzal, an epidemiologist at An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nabus said.

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Dr. Walid Nammour, CEO of the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, said, “If this tiny virus, that we can’t even see, can be so destructive, we must learn to cooperate together now and in the future.”

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A public opinion poll found that 68% of Palestinians support the PA’s cooperation with Israel to stem the spread of the virus. Some Israelis have voiced their gratitude on Twitter and television for Palestinian Arab citizens who make up 17% of Israel’s doctors, a quarter of its nurses and nearly half its pharmacists.

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Acclaimed Israeli novelist David Grossman, who was awarded the 2017 Man Booker Prize, wrote to Haaretz about the radical changes in perspective the virus may bring. He wrote, “Possibly there will be some who will for the first time wonder why Israelis and Palestinians continue to do battle against each other, afflicting their lives for more than a hundred years with a war that could have been resolved long ago.”

The coronavirus outbreak has done what local and international politicians and activists have been unable to do. It has sparked an extraordinarily high level of cooperation and coordination between Palestinians and Israelis.

COVID-19 is, first and foremost a global health crisis. But at a deeper level, it is also a powerful statement about health and its ability to bridge the divide between people, when few other initiatives can. This is what Project Rozana set out to achieve.

The tentative steps we took in 2013 have become a leap of faith that could, if allowed, changes lives for the better and forever.

SOLVING QUESTIONS OF LIFE AND DEATH

Thank you to Road for Recovery for the pictures here.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is so severe and widespread that many of our programs supporting the Palestinian community are being scaled back or have been deferred.

To mitigate the problems this is causing for vulnerable Palestinian children and their families, we are working closely with our partners to find ways of supporting the people who rely on us. Without that support, sadly, some will die.

Transportation

Most of our Israeli volunteer drivers are in the high-risk COVID-19 category and are in self-isolation. Two weeks ago, following an urgent Facebook call-out for young volunteers by our Israeli Wheels of Hope partner, Road to Recovery, 130 young Israelis offered to help. Our newest partner, the West Bank-based Green Land Society for Health Development (GLSHD), was also able to attract new volunteers.

All the volunteers are young people determined to assist us over this difficult period. They have become a lifeline for Palestinian patients who need to reach a hospital in Israel for treatment. Although an expensive alternative, taxis are being utilised when no drivers are available. To date, no patient has been turned away.

GLSHD has lodged an urgent request with the Palestinian Authority for its West Bank volunteer drivers to be excluded from the recently-invoked lockdown and additional cross-border restrictions. They are currently awaiting official approval from the regional Governors of Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah.

Despite permit restrictions and lockdowns, Wheels of Hope continues to serve those most in need. The trips for cancer patients like 16-year old Mohamad Qasiya and 11-year old Nermin Harahsha, are still being made thanks to the dedication of our volunteer drivers. Both children’s lives depend on the week-long chemotherapy treatments they receive every 4 to 6 weeks at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, both Mohamad and Nermin must return home each day after their chemotherapy as the cost of hospitalisation is not covered by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Our Jerusalem-based partner, Humans without Borders (HwB), normally drives patients from checkpoints to hospitals in the city and provides ‘Fun Days’ several times per year for patients, their families and volunteers on both sides of the border. Fun Days have, of course, been postponed for the foreseeable future.

Rather than accept the status quo, HwB has proudly taken the initiative and is helping to provide families with a computer tablet including education and entertainment software. Not only does this provide a distraction for the children, but a much-needed respite for the parents.

The Chair of Project Rozana USA, Kenneth Bob, said the decision by HwB was another reminder of the community spirit that lies at the heart of Project Rozana.

Treatment and Training

The impact of the COVID-19 in Israel and Palestine has meant that all of our training and treatment programs are suspended until lockdowns and travel restrictions cease. Our grantees have been advised that our funding commitments will be extended to cover the time lost.

There is one bright light on the treatment side. As part of a strategy to prevent possible COVID-19 infection for immune-depressed patients, the Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) has billeted all its pediatric dialysis patients, together with their caregivers, at a hotel in East Jerusalem. Project Rozana has provided AVH with a once-off grant to assist in defraying the costs of this accommodation and transport to and from the hospital.

Larry Lester, chair of HwB, said the situation at AVH was proving difficult for some of the families, especially with children unable to adjust to their confined environment.

“We purchased a trove of handicraft materials, games and puzzles which were delivered to the children,” Larry said. “This was exactly what they needed and if necessary, we will do it again.”

He paid tribute to Project Rozana for its continuing support.

“Our partners have proven once again that they are resilient, focused and totally committed to the philosophy of Project Rozana – to build better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health,”

says Ron Finkel AM, Chair of Project Rozana Australia and International.

TWO AND A HALF YEARS MAKES A DIFFERENCE  

Jon Allen (pictured below), is a Director of Project Rozana Canada. He attended both the first International Directors mission in 2017 and the latest mission in March 2020. It shows just how far our relatively young non-profit has come. Here he give a personal reflection.

 

So what are the differences between 2017 and 2020? What have they meant for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza?

In 2017 we focused primarily on transport and treatment, two of the three key pillars on which Project Rozana is built. We visited checkpoints where Israeli volunteer drivers working with Road to Recovery (RtR) collect mostly Palestinian children and their caregivers to transport them to Israeli hospitals.

In 2020, we met with two new services that complement the work of RtR. Jerusalem-based Humans without Borders and Hebron-based Green Land Society for Health Development (GLSHD) have joined RtR under the banner of ‘Wheels of Hope’ in this important initiative. And ‘hope’ is in abundant supply thanks to the remarkable volunteers across all three organizations, which are wholly or partly funded by Project Rozana.

Collectively, these Wheels of Hope services transport some 3,000 patients over approx. 1,300,000 km annually.

Not only has there been a marked increase in the number of volunteer drivers since 2017, but GLSHD has attracted over 150 passionate young Palestinians who are providing peace of mind for patients and their families in the West Bank. Without this service, many families would be unable to meet the cost of commercial transport, thereby putting lives at risk.

In 2017, we received a briefing on operations being performed on Palestinian children who, as a result of consanguinity – close cousin marriages – exhibited severe sex differentiation symptoms. Project Rozana started funding these operations, which the Palestinian Authority neither sanctions nor acknowledges.

The 2017 mission gave us the opportunity to observe at close quarters where the needs were. That proved to be fertile ground for our fundraising initiatives. We visited the Lutheran-supported Augusta Victoria Hospital and observed the dozens of hemodialysis patients on the ward and saw the pediatric oncology unit close-up. I realize now that 2017 was largely a learning mission during which we made multiple contacts and where we began to spread the word regarding Project Rozana’s vision and goals.

As the 2020 Mission unfolded, it became obvious that Project Rozana has begun to make a real difference. This was evident when we gathered over dinner in Jerusalem with our Israeli and Palestinian partner organizations. Among the invited guests were the…

  • Local heads and representatives of the World Health Organization.
  • Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP).
  • Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
  • World Lutheran Federation.
  • Canadian Government’s Office in Ramallah.

Our guests spoke eloquently about the needs in the region and confirmed that Project Rozana-funded projects were demonstrating real and measured success.

During the next three days we were briefed by the co-directors of two impressive projects that Project Rozana not only funds but also initiated by bringing together Israeli and Palestinian partner institutions.

The first is an eighteen month training project between the ALYN Pediatric Rehabilitation Hospital in Jerusalem and the Anglican Church-supported Princess Basma Rehabilitation Center in East Jerusalem. Ten medical practitioners from Princess Basma are in the process of being trained at ALYN, one of the most sophisticated institutions of its kind in the world.

The second is a training partnership between the venerable Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem and the Nephrology Institute of the new Assuta Hospital in Ashdod. The Director of Nephrology at Assuta and the Medical Director and Chief Nephrologist at Augusta Victoria Hospital explained how the Project Rozana peritoneal dialysis training project has allowed Palestinian children and adults to be treated at home rather than spending their days in hospital wards unable to attend school or work.

In addition to meeting partners in existing projects, our group also met with medical staff at Rambam Hospital in Haifa and at the Scottish (EMMS) Hospital in Nazareth. Both institutions are committed to working with their colleagues in the Palestinian Territories and with Project Rozana to consider potential training programs in the areas of clearly defined need. One possibility going forward could be family practice training.

What was perhaps most gratifying for me personally was to realize that since 2017 Project Rozana’s vision and specific goals are being met. Our projects are bridging the divide between Israelis and Palestinians and demonstrating that their commonalities are often more evident than their differences. At the same time, the projects are addressing the specific training, transportation and treatment needs of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.

There were many special moments during our five-day mission to Israel and Palestine. We’re happy to share them with you in our picture gallery.

 Jon Allen of Project Rozana Canada, is a former Canadian Ambassador to Israel and Spain.

Project Rozana Mission participants with GLSHD and HWB staff, volunteer drivers and families – Beit Jala

LEADING REHABILITATION CENTRES JOIN FORCES

Two Jerusalem-based hospitals involved in pediatric rehabilitation have joined forces to create a training project that will build pediatric  capacity in the Palestinian healthcare system.

Supported by Project Rozana, the ALYN Hospital in West Jerusalem, a world-leading specialist in pediatric rehabilitation, and the Jerusalem Princess Basma Center for Children with Disabilities, a member of the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network, will implement a ‘Pediatric Rehabilitation and Developmental Intervention Project’. Both hospitals have a shared vision for treating children with disabilities at an early stage.

This initiative will help to maximize Princess Basma’s ability to assist the children overcome the impairments they face and promote their inclusion and participation in the wider society.

ALYN and Princess Basma have a mutual interest in deepening their long-term partnership. In so doing, they are creating an ecosystem of shared knowledge, procedures and goal-driven interventions for the benefit of children with disabilities.

Group photo with Maurit Beeri (ALYN) and Ibrahim Faltas (JPBC)

MOBILE HEALTH CLINIC FEASIBILITY STUDY

Project Rozana has agreed to support a feasibility study by the Canada International Scientific Exchange Program (CISEPO) and the Hebron-based Green Land Society for Health Development (GLSHD). The study will look into developing of a mobile health clinic model for the delivery of primary healthcare to women in remote villages in the West Bank.

The study will provide a preliminary assessment of local requirements and considerations related to the development of a program for Area C (see below) of the West Bank.

According to Ken Bob, Chair of Project Rozana USA, the study will present the costs and plan for carrying out a gap assessment and developing a roadmap to launch a Program in 2020/2021 for Women’s Health Delivery using a Mobile Health Clinic Model.

Mr Bob said,

“The assessment with be done with the support of key members of the CISEPO and GLSHD network, including Israeli and Palestinian health sector partners and relevant government authorities, UN Relief and Works Agency, and local community members.”

* As part of the Oslo Accords that were signed between Israel and the Palestinians in the mid-1990s, the West Bank was divided into three Areas – A, B & C. The Palestinian Authority which was created as part of the Oslo Accords, is responsible for medical services to Palestinians in Area C, which is about 61% of the West Bank.

NEW BOARD APPOINTMENT IN CANADA

Raja G. Khouri

Raja G. Khouri has been appointed a Director of Project Rozana Canada.

He is a seasoned professional, social entrepreneur and senior executive skilled in strategic development, capacity building, public relations, advocacy, fundraising, partnership development and team leadership.

The CEO of Khouri Conversations, Raja was founding president of the Canadian Arab Institute and a ten-year commissioner with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. He is Canada Committee member of Human Rights Watch and co-founder of the Canadian Arab/Jewish Leadership Dialogue Group.

In announcing his appointment, Chair of Project Rozana Canada, Mark S. Anshan, said the organisation was thrilled to have such an energetic, disciplined and visionary champion of human rights, diversity and inclusion on its team, a real ‘bridge-builder’.

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