Impressive racial harmony

January 29, 2008 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

Jews and Arabs at Israeli

hospitals

By RALPH DOBRIN 

hospital-1.jpg

HADASSAH HOSPITAL, JERUSALEM – On the seventh floor, a middle-aged Arab woman, wearing a hijab, scampered to catch the descending elevator before the doors closed. She was too late – the doors closed before she could get to them. But a bearded Haredi man, who happened to be standing by the control panel of the elevator, quickly pressed the button to re-open the doors, thus enabling the Arab woman to take the elevator down to the building’s exit. She nodded her thanks. Under normal circumstances in Israel this would have been a rare occurrence. But this was Hadassah Hospital where such incidents happen all the time.

For me it was a fitting scene to end a ten-day period of hospitalization following an operation. Fitting – because my whole stay was full of moving experiences – large and small.

The reason for my operation was an experience in itself. After a year of tests and various preparations, I was admitted together with my daughter in order to donate a kidney which was to take the place of her collapsed renal system. I think there are few things that a parent can do for his or her child which can match this as a moving motive – no matter how old the child.

In a hospital ward many of the differences between people are erased. Patients wear ill-fitting hospital gowns. They share ward space and the attentions of the staff. They hear each other’s groans. In Israel, hospitals have yet another equalizer – Jews and Arabs become fellow-patients. Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses become professional colleagues. Racial differences, usually so loaded in this part of the world, are erased.

As a Jew in a Jewish hospital (Hadassah is largely supported by Jewish women of America) I found myself being treated by many Arab nurses and doctors, in addition to the Jewish staff. The surgeon in charge of the actual transplant was Professor Ahmed Eid. His Jewish colleagues cooperated with him fully under his expert and amiable direction.

Almost half of the other patients in the ward were Arabs, coming from East Jerusalem as well as other Arab areas. In a neighboring bed was an elderly Jew who on entering the ward informed me quietly that he did not like the fact that there were so many Arabs – staff and patients. “Surely they have their own hospitals,” he grumbled.

A few minutes after he settled down in his bed, yet another patient was wheeled in – a groaning middle-aged Arab, followed by a retinue of sons and a wife. The elderly Jew leaned towards me and pulled a face conspirationally. The ward becomes a crowded place when there are visitors. (In many Israeli hospitals family members are not restricted in their visits. (Only after nine or ten o’clock at night and during the doctors’ rounds are they asked to leave the ward.) I found that some of the Arab’s sons were sitting quite close to me. I began to chat to them, enjoying the opportunity to practise my shaky Arabic.

At first they seemed to be surly, answering curtly. Maybe they felt a little out of place in a Jewish hospital. A tense security situation brought on by serious external threats to Israel’s very existence, as well as thousands of acts of terror during the last fifteen years have driven a serious rift between the two peoples. In many spheres of life Israeli Arabs feel they are merely second-class citizens. Arabs from outside Israel feel even more alienated. On the other hand, few people seem to realize how difficult it is for Israelis to be even-handed to a people that teaches its young to hate Jews and to aim to obliterate them from the map.

Personally, I find this fascinating and I have made a serious attempt to learn Arabic and befriend Arabs. However, that doesn’t make me support the idea of giving away Judea and Samaria in return for a fragile peace.

Anyway, after a while, one of the newly hospitalized Arab sons began to talk to me. He told me that they lived in East Jerusalem and that his father had a very serious intestinal problem. Soon the other sons also became more friendly, and it wasn’t long before I had introduced their whole family to my wife. And soon we were all chatting and laughing like old friends.

After a while introduced the Arab patient to the elderly guy in the bed next to mine. The Arab man got out of his bed with difficulty to shake the old guy’s hand, but he simply nodded coldly. Later a young nurse came in to measure the old guy’s blood pressure and take his temperature. From her accent it was clear that she was an Arab. Grumpily, he allowed her to put a thermometer in his mouth. She was an incredibly sweet-looking person. Diminutive, chirpy, with a hint of naughtiness in her smile, she softly hummed an Arab song, while tending to the patients. “I hope you are feeling a little better,” she beamed at the old guy. He just stared at her.

At about nine o’clock in the evening he closed the curtain partitioning him from the rest of the ward and switched off the light over his bed. Clearly he wanted to go to sleep. The Arab family had left the ward.

The Arab patient asked the old guy in very broken Hebrew, if it was alright if he kept his light on for a while because he wanted to read. The old man, who was also hard of hearing couldn’t understand the Arab. The Arab then asked the question in Arabic. “What’s he saying,” the old man asked me. I translated. The old man grunted that the light wouldn’t bother him.

The night passed without incident. In the morning nurses came in with sleepy smiles, measuring blood pressure and temperature, and handing out medicine. Doctors came in with syringes to take blood samples. Patients got up to go to the bathroom. The old man and the Arab happened to get out of their beds at the same time and almost bumped into each other. “Good morning,” the Arab said with a deferential nod in Hebrew. “Boker Tov.”

The old Jew looked at him sternly and then his expression changed into a brief smile. He nodded and moved his hand to the Arab’s shoulder, almost touching it. Slowly, as though he was trying to remember the words, he said: “Sabbah el Hir,” (Good morning in Arabic.) The two men would soon get onto more comradely terms during the next few days.

Later, a portly, middle-aged man entered the ward, came to my bed and asked how I was feeling. It was Professor Ahmed Eid. He examined me, asked a few more questions, gave some instructions to a nurse, quipped an amusing observation and walked out the ward. 

After he left, I asked my Arab friend if he knew who the man was. He shook his head. I said, “That’s the doctor who did my transplant. That’s Professor Eid.” I could see by the expression on his face that he was querying to himself whether the professor was indeed not Jewish. I added: “Professor Ahmed Eid,” emphasizing the “Ahmed.”

The Arab got out of his bed and walked as quick as he could to the exit of the ward to observe Professor Eid’s departing figure. Then he returned and stood by my bed. His face glowed with pride. He put his hands on my shoulders. “May you be healthy,” he repeated in Arabic a few times. “Thank you, Rafi. Thank you.”

I wanted to say, “Why thank you? What are you thanking me for?” Then I realized that the mere presence of Professor Eid in a Jewish hospital had made his world a more just and safer place and he wanted to acknowledge that he realized this. 

See also: www.israelandtruth.org

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