“Like many others, I too am excited by the news of the upcoming visitof President Barak Obama in Israel,” he wrote on his Facebook page
“Shortly after the White House announced the visit, many Israelis raised their hope that the President will speak to the Israeli public, here in Tel Aviv’s main square. I join these voices.”
The initiative has already received more than 8,000 likes on Facebook. It aims to persuade Obama to speak to hundreds of thousands of Israelis at Rabin Square.
“Just as President Obama spoke to large audiences in other parts of the world, I would be happy and honored to invite him to Tel Aviv-Yafo where he is welcome to address the Israeli public at Rabin Square – a location that is a symbol of the Israeli Democracy and of our ongoing desire to live a peaceful and normal life,” Huldai wrote.
One of the people behind the initiative is Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer who said that there “is a significant voice in the Israeli public that needs to be heard.”
He hopes that with tens of thousands of likes the page would attract the attention of world media “and perhaps even Obama himself.”
Oppenheimer revealed that Peace Now is planning to hold a large rally at the square during Obama’s visit which he said was a “historic opportunity to bring the peace camp back to the streets.”
Huldai’s deputy, Arnon Giladi (Likud) is not so keen on the idea. “I share the mayor’s excitement over the president’s visit but I think this is no more than a gimmick,” he said.
“Talks and political moves do not belong on stages meant for concerts and rallies. The government must be left to run state matters and foreign relations.”
This unique combination didn’t surprise these two female cooks: “I guess we’ve disappointed all those who were expecting action and quarrels. The good bond between us was formed because we think alike about people”.
This friendship was formed on the set of this season’s Master Chef – Israel. Among pots and pans, Salma and Elinor discovered that two women coming from opposing sides of the Israeli society, had more than a few things in common.
“On the set, I didn’t see a difference between Salma and the other female competitors” says Elinor “but on the screen, when I saw how the photographers captured Salma and I on the same shoot, I realized how big this connection was”.
“I don’t judge people by looks” says Salma “Some people radiate goodness and you fall in love with them right away. Lots of people noticed my connection to Elinor because they thought we had similar personalities”.
“When I met Salma” Elinor continues, “I saw a wonderful person. I didn’t see a flag, I saw a person and the same thing applies to my friendship with Maya, the Jewish vegan competitor who holds left-wing viewpoints and opposes the fact that I live in a settlement in Gush Etzion, in the northern Judean hills in the West Bank. Every person has strong beliefs and viewpoints that lead him/her throughout life but those beliefs don’t affect who they are as human beings”.
“I’m not representing anyone” says Salma
Elinor: “Do people in your village say anything about the fact that you have a friend who’s a settler?”
Salma: “No one said anything”
Elinor: “People gently told me “we saw you hugging Salma”
Salma: When I entered the show, I didn’t think I would become friends with the Jewish religious competitor”
Elinor: “Neither did I. There are Arabs from your village who work in our settlement so I’ve had some interactions with Arabs before but never did I have a female…Arab friend?”
Salma: “Indeed, I’m Arab, aren’t I?”
Elinor: “Or should I say “Muslim?”
Salma: “A Muslim Arab”
Elinor: “Ok, so I’ve never had such a relationship with a Muslim Arab woman”
Elinor works at the Mushroom Farm in Tekoa and Salma is a nurse and a Research Coordinator of clinical trials on Altzheimer’s.
The two young women provide the required recipe needed to bring peace and love between Jews and Arabs but their relationship also provides a glimpse into the deep conflict, the prejudice and the fear that lie between us. For example, when we wanted this interview to take place in one of their houses, it didn’t work out.
“I’m really sorry I didn’t want to come to your house” Elinor says to Salma “but I’m scared. I have this deep fear inside of me. I know Salma and I trust her completely but I don’t want to come to a place where everybody’s going to stare at me.
Salma didn’t want to go to Elinor’s house either because she was afraid of the Jewish settlers. “What am I going to do in a settlement? How will I be looked at? On the other hand, if Elinor comes to my village, I’m sure nothing bad will happen to her. People in our village respect Jews but she thinks it’s scary and I am scared of going to Tekoa”
The compromise for the meeting was a Kosher Café in Tel Aviv.
“Here, in Tel Aviv, it is more acceptable. Tel Aviv is more open to these things” Elinor says.
“I said that it would be better if we met somewhere in the middle, at this point, but it doesn’t mean I will never come to visit Elinor in Tekoa” Salma adds. “My husband knows Rabbi Froman, the Rabbi of the settlement Tekoa and loves him”
Elinor: “Salma, wouldn’t you like to live in a Palestinian country?”
Salma: “I would like to live in a country that makes me feel like I belong, that doesn’t prevent me from serving in its military because I’m Arab, but, right now, when I see what goes on in Arab countries – I don’t think I would like to live anywhere else. There’s mor order here than what we see in other places around the world. We feel good here. I have a life, work, people I know and love. I would love it if this friendship with Elinor will cause people to think that there’s another way but I’m also realistic and I understand that this friendship won’t bring peace”.
Elinor: “we want to live in peace, without sirens, without wars. And it all begins with the common people”
The war between Israel and Gaza posed a first obstacle in this new friendship but even the rockets fired from both sides a week and half ago didn’t shake their peaceful viewpoints.
“It wasn’t Salma who fired those rockets from Gaza” says Elinor
“I heard some responses from people living in Gaza who said they didn’t want to be a part of all this war”.
A young Arab woman in Jericho was bitten on her foot by a poisonous viper in 2008. When the local clinic was unable to treat her, an Israeli ambulance jeep drove the woman almost two hours through the Jordan Valley to Emek Medical Center, where the anti-venom serum was available. She was already unconscious at that point, but her life was saved in the nick of time.
This is just one of many such stories that Larry Rich relates to an ever-widening audience, with the goal of demonstrating how Israel’s medical establishment serves as a paradigm for coexisting cultures in conflict.
“For years, I have considered Emek Medical Center and the human reality here as a shining example of sanity in a world going mad – literally a beacon of light and hope for anybody who cares to focus on something sane,” says Rich, the Detroit-born director of development and international public relations at the hospital.
Rich is a grassroots diplomat for Israel, speaking to multiethnic audiences in Europe and North America about everyday inspiring scenes at Israel’s hospitals that never make the news.
Many of these stories are recorded in his 2005 book, Voices from Armageddon, which relates how Arab and Jewish medical staff at Emek routinely treats “the other.”
“Jewish-Arab cooperation may be seen in every hospital from Eilat to Nahariya,” stresses Rich. “What is special about Emek is its unique 50-50 ratio. In the northeast, we are the primary healthcare provider for a population of 500,000, equally divided between Arabs and Jews. In no other place in Israel does this symbolic ratio exist.”
Saving lives in Armageddon
Emek Medical Center is situated in Afula, a Jezreel Valley municipality near Megiddo, the fabled site of the future Armageddon and a geographically strategic area that has seen many famous battles during the last 4,000 years.
The medical center’s professional staff mirrors the national ratio: 20 percent overall is Arab, and 20% of the heads of medical departments are Arab Muslims or Christians, Druse or Circassians.
Throughout the years, the medical staff has actively pursued international opportunities to share its expertise, as do many other Israeli hospitals.
In 2012 alone, the head of Emek’s intensive care unit traveled with two nurses, on behalf of the Foreign Ministry, to the Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, to open a new trauma center and train the local medical staff. The director of Emek’s Pediatric Gastroenterology Clinic lectured at the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition’s summer course in Madrid. And Prof. Hava Tabenkin, Emek’s chief of family medicine and chair of the National Council of Women’s Health, spearheaded a Family Medicine Fellowship program with Providence, Rhode Island’s Miriam Hospital and Memorial Hospital.
Arrif and Mohammed
In 1997, Rich was taken to Emek after suffering a heart attack. “When I woke up in the cardiac intensive care at Emek Medical Center, I saw Arab and Jewish physicians working together to save me. I had been in the country 25 years, but I still had stereotypes in my mind about Arabs. I never made the academic/professional connection,” he says.
Within two years, he had left his industrial job and created an office to market the hospital to overseas donors. Over the past 13 years, he has written up and shared the many experiences he and staffers witness at the facility – from a Jewish surgeon operating on a wounded Arab terrorist during the intifada to an Arab nurse assuring a wary mother that the Jewish hospital was indeed a safe place for her child sick with cancer.
“Today in Emek, I was leading a group of visitors from England on a tour of our School for Hospitalized Children,” he wrote in one email to supporters. “I introduced the group to Arrif and his fifteen-year-old-son, Mohammed. They come from Gaza. They have been ‘living’ in Emek for 10 months as young Mohammed is being treated for severe facial cancer. Arrif speaks fluent Hebrew and I conducted a simultaneously translated Q&A session between him and the British visitors …
“Q. How do you feel here, among the Jews of Israel?
“A. Perfectly normal and at ease. Grateful – so very grateful.
“Q. What does your family back in Gaza say about Mohammed’s treatment here?
“A. They are amazed and they send their sincere gratitude. They cannot believe what has and is being done for Mohammed and me.
Time for a positive message
Rich, who has a gift for public speaking with his radio-announcer voice, has long told of these episodes to international visitors to the medical center and on his fundraising trips abroad.
“After people heard the stories of the reality of what takes place here in Emek, they always asked why I am not speaking for Israel and only for the hospital,” he relates. The Foreign Ministry agreed, registering him as an official speaker in 2007.
Last year, Rich was invited to address an audience at Trinity College in Ireland, arranged through the parents of Emek’s director of ophthalmology Dr. Daniel Briscoe, an Irish Jew. The Israeli embassy in Dublin paid for his accommodations and the Dublin Jewish community covered his transportation costs.
“I created a lecture about Israel seen through the prism of a medical institution. I decided to present positive realities of human cooperation that take place daily and hourly here, not only in the hospital but in the immediate region,” says Rich. “I stayed away from terror, war and anything negative in our part of the world. It was time for a positive message.”
More than 50 Christians and Jews turned out, along with Israeli Ambassador Boaz Modai, to hear what Rich had to say. Later, he was interviewed on Irish national radio station RTE.
Intense curiosity among listeners
Based on the positive reactions to his appearances in Dublin, Rich was recruited by Noam Katz, the Minister of Public Diplomacy at Israel’s Embassy in Washington to give several lectures while he was in the United States on hospital business in April 2012.
“His office put together an itinerary for me to speak for four days in Washington, which I gladly accepted,” says Rich. “They intentionally arranged some challenging audiences because they were curious to see the impact of my talk.”
Rich was also invited by the Jewish Federation of Detroit to speak before a delegation of Arab leaders representing nearly a million Arabs in this region, which has the highest concentration of Muslims in the United States.
“These people came up to me afterward and said they had never heard such a message coming out of Israel,” Rich reports. “They wanted to hear more about this cooperation at ground level. They want me to speak in their communities.”
The ethnically mixed prep school Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island hosted Rich, as did the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, several groups in Connecticut, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
In Washington, he spoke to Georgetown University medical students and faculty, and a large organization of hospital owners. He found “intense curiosity” on the part of individuals and Jewish communities to hear his perspective.
Human behavior at its best
“I started each of my lectures by saying, ‘Let’s get something clear from the start: I am not a politician or a general in the army. I am just a guy from the street come to open a small window for you to peek in and visit Israel,’ and then I started telling real-life stories of cooperation, education and life-saving on a professional, patient and family level,” Rich says.
He finishes his presentations by stressing that he cannot dictate what anyone chooses to believe, but hopes to shift their focus.
“Every person has the choice to focus on positive examples or to focus on hate and divisiveness, and that is what you will perpetuate,” Rich says.
His final lecture was before leaders and members of a left-wing Israel advocacy organization.
“At the end of the lecture, someone asked if the stories I had told were the exception. I said, ‘These stories are the norm. They go on in Israel all across the spectrum, every hour of every day, north to south – except that is not what you’re hearing in the news.’
“I explained humbly that all of these stories are not the answer to the problem in the Middle East, but an example of human behavior at its best, of people making conscious decisions to live and work together. This is something people are hungry to hear, not about blame or excuses.”
“She goes to his grave, holding their newborn child,” said Asaf Ron, executive director for Haifa’s Beit HaGeffen Arab Jewish Cultural Center. “She asks how their son should be raised. ‘If I raise him Arab, he won’t have a good life here, if I raise him Jewish, he won’t have a good life because his mother is Arab.’”
Ron is paraphrasing the final monologue of the main character in A Trumpet in the Wadi, a dramatic love story by Israeli author, Sami Michael. The story takes place in Wadi Nisnas, the Arab quarter in the city of Haifa.
Today, the walls, buildings and streets of the neighborhood are an outdoors museum of street art that reflect on the complicated narratives in Israel that Michael first touched on in his literature. The decision to use Wadi Nisnas as a canvas for art came through the inception of Haifa’s annual “Festival of Festivals.” Each year artists contribute more works to the neighborhood in line with the theme of the festival. In addition to the art in the neighborhood, the Beit HaGeffen gallery has new contributions based on this year’s theme of “Log in, Log out,” in a nod to the digital age.
The “Festival of Festivals” began in 1993 when the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, the Christian holiday of Christmas and Jewish festival of Hanukka all took place simultaneously. Ramadan was in August of this year but Ron joked, “we are optimistic that in 19 more years, Ramadan will be back in December.“
On Friday’s and Saturday’s in the month of December, the art of the neighborhood is promoted through walking tours put on by Ron and the Arab Jewish Cultural Center. The focus of the cultural center is to bridge gaps in the community among Arabs and Jews. “It’s easier to bring people together around art and culture and not debates,” Ron said.
It’s surprising how the impressive works of ceramic mosaics, sculptures and paintings can so easily be missed. The “Festivals of Festivals” provides an opportunity to highlight these important works of art.
The tour begins at the center’s location on HaGefen Street. Lining the building are three, two-dimensional metal sculptures. On the crown of three metal domes that stand side by side are a cross, Star of David, and an Islamic crescent moon. The artwork is a metaphor for the goal of religious co-existence in Haifa.”If you look for the differences you will see them immediately,” said Ron. “If you look for the similarities, you can see them too.”
Heading into the winding streets of Wadi Nisnas, children run in and out of apartment buildings and Christmas decorations make this neighborhood like any other. The prominence of the artwork is subtle at first. A turn of a corner and suddenly, what seems like an ordinary wrought iron fence is actually a sculpture, combining different metal-works and colors and an English sign reading “Peace & Love.”
Themes of peace inspire most of the works throughout the outdoor gallery, although humor is also on display. In reference to the popular local drink “Café Afuch,” or “upside down coffee,” protruding from the roof of a building is an upside down tray complete with coffee pot, grinder and cups to share.
One of the most famous artists of Wadi Nisans is Chaya Toma. The themes of her artwork often reflect on the conflict between Jews and Arabs. Toma’s personal history also greatly factors into her work. Toma, a Jewish woman, entered her second marriage to Dr. Emil Toma, an Arab-Israeli. Bringing with her a Jewish son from her first marriage, had to reconcile what it meant to be part of a mixed family, especially with the birth of Toma’s second son. In one of the final pieces leading out of Wadi Nisnas, Toma created a window with a picture of her two young sons, side by side and smiling.
Toma’s works feature prominently in the neighborhood and were mostly installed during the second intifada. Her signature medium is ceramic wall sculptures with the main subject usually being an olive tree. The olive tree is a symbol with many meanings in the Mediterranean. The olive branch is a symbol of peace, but the tree also represents livelihood and business. It is a source of contestation in the ongoing conflict as orchards are cut down for arguments of defense.
Other stand out pieces of art is the “Dove of Peace,” one of the first sculptures at the inception of the Festival in 1993. Contributed by a Druze artist from the Golan Heights, the outline of a ceramic dove on the wall of a building leads out to five stones, reducing in size. Each stone is said to represent countries in the Middle East with the smallest at the end representing Israel. The stones are hollowed on top, filling with water when it rains. For the artist, this is meant to symbolize that the rain from the sky doesn’t discriminate and it will give water to all.
Often overlooked, Haifa is a curious municipal experiment that combines a rich history, diversity among religions and a modern international community. First settled in the mid 19th century by German immigrants, Haifa changed hands first under the reign of the Ottoman Empire and then the British Mandate of Palestine. It’s large bay and deep port have made it an invaluable resource in trade and the historically religious Mount Carmel rises above the city and adds to its mystique.
by Itay Hod, Daily Beast
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, pediatric oncology patients at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center gathered in the hospital’s auditorium for a big Hanukkah party. They lit the menorah and sang the traditional songs about the tiny Maccabean rebellion that defeated the mighty Greeks in 167 B.C.E.
But while the miracle of Hanukkah was being celebrated downstairs, a modern-day miracle was happening on the second floor. Tal Zilker, a 17-year-old cancer patient from Southern Israel, was chatting with his new best friend, Qsuy Imran (prounounced ‘Hussai’), a 17-year-old boy from Gaza.
Having just gone through a particularly aggressive round of chemo, Imran was too weak to join the festivities, and Zilker decided to forgo the first half of the party to keep him company.
“Chatting” may be stretching it a bit to describe the boys’ interaction. Zilker can say, “Are you in pain?” and, “When’s your next treatment?” in Arabic. Imran can manage “Do you have a fever?” and a few cuss words in Hebrew. But when you’re a teenager, vocabulary is nowhere near as important as being ambidextrous.
“We’re both Playstation fanatics,” said Zilker.
This friendship between two teenagers of the same age—who look alike, have the exact same type of cancer, and share the same love for video games—shouldn’t be all that surprising or newsworthy. But add their respective zip codes into the equation, and it becomes as fantastical a tale as a Tolkein novel.
Zilker is from Ashdod, a city in Southern Israel. Imran is from Khan Yunis, in Gaza. During the seven days of “Operation Pillar of Defense” last month, Hamas fired more than 1,400 rockets into Israel, most of them aimed at the Ashdod-Ashkelon area. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) struck more than 1,500 sites in the Gaza Strip, a tiny patch of land twice the size of Washington, D.C.
What’s more astounding is that while Hamas was launching those explosives, it continued sending patients to be treated in Israeli hospitals, many of them located in the same areas Hamas was targeting.
Israeli hospitals have been accepting Palestinian patients for years. There are simply not enough medical facilities in Gaza to treat its growing population. Those that are there are ill-equipped. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 24 medical centers in Gaza, which serve 1.7 million people. Israel, in contrast, has 377 hospitals and a population of about 8 million. Last year alone, more than 100,000 Palestinians received medical care in Israel. Israeli hospitals continued to treat patients from Gaza even at the height of the fighting in November.
To make things even more complicated, many of the Israeli doctors who treat these patients are also soldiers in the IDF, in which service is mandatory. In fact, Dr. Dror Levin, the oncologist treating Zilker and Imran, spent the entire week of Operation Pillar of Defense patrolling the border with Gaza alongside the rest of his reserve platoon.
Though such contradictions might sound crazy to anyone else, here in the Middle East, it’s par for the course.
“It’s actually quite simple,” said Dr. Levin, now out of uniform. “Qsuy is not a representative of Gaza. All I see when I look at him is a boy who needs my help. That’s where it begins and that’s where it ends for me.”
Despite the bloody battle raging between their governments, Zilker and Imran seemed less concerned with geopolitics than with playing a game of virtual soccer, their favorite pastime.
The two met in May, when Zilker came in for his biopsy. An MRI done just days earlier revealed a tumor in his left knee. Imran was the first person he met at the oncology floor of the hospital.
They hit it off immediately.
Having gone through surgery to remove his osteosarcoma—an aggressive bone cancer—less than a week before, Imran was a “veteran” in hospital protocol. He quickly took Zilker under his wing and gave him the lowdown, carefully explaining what to expect should Zilker’s biopsy come back positive. (Imran’s father, who speaks Hebrew, translated for the boys, who also used a lot of pantomime.)
The fact that Imran had the same cancer that Zilker was suspected of having, in the exact same place, made their meeting—as they say in this corner of the globe—“bashert”: meant to be.
“At the time, we needed every bit of information,” said Anat, Zilker’s mother. “Qsuy was the only person we knew who had the same cancer. He became our lifeline.”
Imran’s father, Jihad, whose name incidentally means “holy war” in Arabic, became their unofficial guide through the difficult maze of doctors and treatments. “This terrible fate brought us together in a way that’s hard to explain,” said Anat.
Jihad says Anat has been a ray of hope for his family as well. Being a resident of Gaza, he and Imran are not allowed to leave the hospital except for a few organized trips. For the last 10 months, Anat has been bringing him and Imran home-cooked meals and clothes. Being so far away from his family and friends, he turned to Anat and her son for comfort.
“One of the only good things to come out of this is the fact that I found a new family,” said Jihad, referring to the Zilkers.
When the rockets began flying over Israel in November, Anat rushed to make sure the Imrans were OK. She was a bit worried at first about how the war would affect their newly formed friendship. “I wanted them to know it didn’t matter to us and that we loved them,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t their doing.
A self-proclaimed liberal, she says she never thought of them as anything but friends. But the experience has opened her eyes in one respect. “I knew Palestinians love their children. But I also knew that they were willing to send them on suicide missions. I guess I was surprised to see that they love their kids the same way we love ours. I look at Jihad’s dedication to Qsuy and it’s the same. No difference.”
Zilker wanted to know if Imran’s relatives were safe. “I asked him if any of the missiles hit his hometown. I felt bad.”
Asked whether he was worried at the time that their friendship might suffer, he said no. “We’re best friends.”
Imran wasn’t worried either. The only argument they’ve ever had is who’s better at PlayStation. They’re still fighting about that.
Jihad, who is a construction worker by trade, says he knew there were “good Israelis” from his days working in Israel before the blockade. But he was touched by the level of care he received during his stay in Tel Aviv. “They treated us like family. I have nothing but love for the doctors and staff and Anat and Tal, of course.”
Zilker summed it up perhaps the best, the way only a 17-year-old can. “I used to think that there were some good Palestinians but most of them were bad. Now I know that it’s the opposite. There are a few bad ones, but most of them are good.”
Both Zilker and Imran are getting ready to return home. In both cases, doctors were able to successfully remove their tumors. Imran says he’s looking forward to school, but the first thing he’ll do is dust off his soccer ball and hit the playground. Zilker is planning a trip to California.
They don’t know when or where they’ll be able to see each other next. But in the meantime, they plan on meeting on the virtual soccer field for their first ever post-cancer game, to settle the score once and for all.
Source: The Daily Beast