Are we really so far apart?

The world has chosen to describe Israelis and Palestinians as intractable enemies; two peoples incapable of reaching mutual understanding, let alone reconciliation and peace. But what the naysayers fail to recognise is that mutual understanding and respect are well-advanced in the daily lives of many Israelis and Palestinians. It is alive and well in the major hospitals of Israel, and Hadassah Hospital is a case in point. Enter either of its campuses, and the first thing you notice is the remarkable mix of people – patients, families and practitioners – representing the mosaic of life in Israel. 

There are many stories that reflect this reality. Ron Finkel AM, President of Hadassah Australia, says that it takes a case like this to tell a story of hope, courage and shared commitment.

Hadassah Hospital is a case in point.  Enter either of its hospitals, and the first thing you notice is the remarkable mix of people – patients, families and practitioners – representing the mosaic of life in Israel.

There are Israelis and Palestinians; Arabs and Europeans; Jews, Christians and Muslims; Orthodox and secular.  For the most part they are readily identifiable and tend to coexist easily.  But beyond the frame of the public spaces, there are stories from the wards and consulting rooms that reveal more about the human condition than the politically-charged environment of Middle Eastern politics usually allows.

There are many stories that reflect this reality; some are truly heartwarming, as the following story demonstrates.

It is a story of two families who are travelling a similar journey, which began earlier this year in the Pediatric Gastroenterology Unit at Hadassah Hospital’s Mount Scopus campus.  Their children suffer from a rare disease and require special and expensive food-based medicine.

One couple hails from an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, while the other couple lives in Gaza.  Both share the same concern for their tiny loved one who is hospitalized for treatment and follow-up at the hospital.

The first mother, who we will call ‘Dafna’, tells us that her daughter is being treated by Professor Michael Wilshansky, the unit’s director, and Dr Peri-Nicole Milman, an expert in pediatric gastroenterology.

“We are in the best of hands,” she says, speaking Hebrew. "Prof Wilshansky diagnosed the rare disease our child suffers from by her symptoms, even before the test results arrived.  His knowledge and understanding are astonishing, as is his compassion and his ability to accompany families in the long process.”

Dafna says that the doctor has been available to them for many months, day and night.

Close by is a baby of a similar age, whose parents have travelled from Gaza to Hadassah for treatment.  Both babies suffer from a syndrome so rare there are only 30 children in the world who are known to have it.

During the hospitalization, Dafna and her husband met the parents of the other baby who is also fed by the unique and expensive medicine.

Prof. Michael Wilshansky with the babies

"This medicine is saving the lives of our babies," says Dafna. “When we heard that the parents from Gaza had trouble paying for it, we decided to do an act of benevolence and help them get it. We enrolled everyone we know for this effort, friends and acquaintance. Soon the drug arrived and they were very excited and happy.  It's the only thing their daughter can eat. "

The parents from Gaza do not conceal their excitement.

"Thanks to these generous people, our daughter was given life-saving medication,” the mother says in Arabic.  “She is now improving and eating these food capsules. We do not take it for granted. We thank them every day and every minute. It is an act of kindness that we will never forget. "

Dafna says: "As far as we're concerned, a sick baby is like any other baby, no matter where it comes from and what its nationality is. We helped with all our heart. When we needed this special remedy, there were those who got it for us and now we have passed the mitzvah on."

Prof Wilshansky explains that the syndrome affecting the two babies does not allow the intestine to function properly in digesting any other type of food.

“This is the only food that exists for them,” he says matter-of-factly, despite the obvious consequences of his words. “It is very expensive, and very complicated to purchase for those who do not have medical insurance."

Ron Finkel AM, President of Hadassah Australia, says that it takes a case like this to tell a story of hope, courage and shared commitment.

”The further we can shift from megaphone diplomacy to the quiet diplomacy of the back fence, the closer we will come to realizing a paradigm shift in relations between people.

”Hadassah is a beacon of light for families like this,” he says.  “In the darkness that is enveloping so much of the Middle East, this story demonstrates why Hadassah Hospital is so important in creating a safe space for people of goodwill to meet.”