Dr. Abed Abu Quidar receiving Danielle prize
Reprinted from the Canadian Jewish News
“If it weren’t for the Arab medical workers in Israel, the county’s health care system would collapse.”
That’s the way Jim Lederman who, after living in Jerusalem for almost 50 years as Israel’s longest-serving foreign correspondent, recently returned to Toronto and described his personal experience as a patient in Israel.
Several years ago, Jim (who began his journalism career covering the 1967 Six-Day War for CBC Radio, leaving for NPR in 1980), suffered an accident that affected his mobility.
A year later he fell, smashing his head. At Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem his neurosurgeon was an Arab, as were his male nurse and orderly.
What left a lasting impression on him was that, at every level, Israeli Arabs, and even Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem without Israeli citizenship, comprise a substantial – and essential – part of Israel’s medical establishment.
Lederman remarked: “When the latest bout of terrorism broke out in Jerusalem in 2015, and the government, trying to assuage the public, closed off the Arab neighbourhoods, the hospitals in the city were panic-stricken.
“The roadblocks were preventing a third of the staff in some departments from arriving for work. Unlike Israel’s housing and education systems, the chronically underfunded health system is being saved, if just barely, by the willingness of Arab families to spend tens of thousands of dollars to train family members in the medical profession, some in Israel, most abroad.”
To be sure, in a society where 80 percent of the population is Jewish and approximately 20 percent Arab, the majority of healthcare professionals are Jewish. But, although it’s rarely noted in the international media, this is a field where Jews and Arabs truly exemplify co-existence.
Barbara Sofer, who served as a liaison to the foreign press at Hadassah University Medical Center, wrote the following in the Jerusalem Post in 2014: “Members of foreign delegations and the foreign press often assume I’m propagandizing when I describe the degree of integration at Hadassah…I wait for that pleasant moment when they are surprised to realize I’m not exaggerating about our everyday Israeli reality – where Jews and Arabs share the same waiting rooms, and hospital rooms, and even order the same Belgian hot chocolate in mall cafes. They observe Jewish and Arab doctors (some of them Palestinian), nurses and technicians hovering over the same patients, exchanging ideas and, on their breaks, sharing their black-humor jokes.”
This is not to say that everything is rosy. Allegations of anti-Arab racism within Israel’s medical system appear from time to time, most recently last April when it was charged that Jewish and Arab women were being unofficially segregated in maternity wards at some hospitals. Charges and counter-charges were reported at the time in Ha’aretz, including the claim (made by Professor Drorit Hochner, head of the maternity ward at Hadassah Mount Scopus) that some Arab women request not to be placed with Jewish women.
Overall, though, Jewish-Arab co-existence and cooperation in Israel’s medical community dominate. Just one example: last year, the inaugural “Danielle Prize” (commemorating 20-year-old Danielle Sonnenfeld, killed in a car accident), open to pediatric oncology departments across Israel, was awarded to an Arab physician, Dr. Abed Abu Quidar, and a Jewish nurse, Chaya Hirshberg, both from the same department at Soroka Medical Centre in Beersheba. President Reuven Rivlin handed out the prize in what was described as a moving ceremony at his residence.
Much of what Israel does in providing humanitarian assistance, foremost medical treatment to Arabs in the surrounding region – whether to nearly 3,000 Syrians badly wounded in Bashar Assad’s war on rebels and civilians near Israel’s border, or, annually, to thousands of Gazans – including family members of Hamas’s leadership – goes unreported, sometimes to “save” these patients from retribution at home for having been treated in the Jewish state.
It’s part of a bizarre world – but this is Israel (both Jew and Arab) at its finest.