Hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

How one Palestinian journalist found hope of peace in Israel’s health care system.

There are many reasons to be pessimistic and at times to despair about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet even when things look hopeless, hope has a way of appearing, offering a vision of what can be rather than what is. Recently, I caught a glimpse of this hope in an unlikely place – the Israeli health care system.

In December, I went for a routine checkup with my family doctor in east Jerusalem and received the news everyone fears – I had cancer. What had seemed like a small lump in my neck was in fact thyroid cancer – devastating news for someone in his late 20s. I was quickly scheduled for surgery and given a date of May 17.

I immediately called my close friend Dr. Adel Misk, a Palestinian neurologist from east Jerusalem. Misk works in both Israeli and Palestinian hospitals, treating Palestinians and Israelis alike. He referred me to his colleague, Dr. Shila Nagar, a Jewish Israeli endocrinologist.

When Misk referred me to Nagar, he was not thinking in the terms of Palestinians and Israelis, but rather in terms of which specialist could best treat me. He was not concerned about her religious practices or political opinions. He was only concerned about her track record as a doctor.

In the waiting room outside Nagar’s office, I could not help but notice how many Palestinians were there. It did not bother them that she was Jewish, just like Misk’s Jewish patients do not mind that he is Palestinian. All the stereotypes and fences of nationalist fervor were replaced with basic survival instincts.

I shared my thoughts about Israeli-Palestinian medical cooperation with Nagar, who told me a story of a Jewish friend of hers who had prostate problems. One night he was suffering from a painful blockage and went to the emergency room. The doctor on duty was an Arab woman. He was not pleased: It is doubly bad, he thought, an Arab and a woman. At first he refused to let her treat him; however, as the pain increased he changed his mind and called her in. Years later, this Arab woman is his permanent doctor and a close friend. This personal experience was Nagar’s example of how humanity (and physical necessity!) can overcome nationalism.

Fast forward to the day of my surgery. In an ironic twist of fate, here I was, a Palestinian journalist, draped in a hospital gown covered in Stars of David. I was stressed and fearful. Yet none of these emotions had to do with the nationality of my doctors or the pattern on my hospital gown. I was afraid of the surgery, and the possibility of not waking up again. However, when I was brought to the operating room, I was again given another dose of hope.

I had two surgeons, a Palestinian Arab and an Israeli Jew. The anesthesiologist was an extremely experienced and competent Russian who joked with me until I fell asleep. My life was in the hands of an ideal team.

Meanwhile, my family waited outside. My wife and mother were both in tears, and later told me that a Jewish woman waiting for news of her relative’s surgery comforted them.

In the midst of the hatred, anger and bitterness of the conflict, you can still find glimpses of goodness. Unfortunately, this light often passes unnoticed. Yet it offers a practical example of the dream we all share, of a future where we can live safe and full lives without fear of injury.

My surgery went extremely well, and I recovered quickly. Moreover, through this painful experience I caught a glimmer of hope in what seems like a hopeless environment. I have many criticisms of Israeli policies and politics, but the functioning universal health care system in Israel and its ability to separate politics from medicine earns my praise.

This is not to say that the system is perfect. Like any future Israel and Palestine might share, there is the possibility of getting distracted by issues of insurance and bureaucracy. However, when it matters most, Israeli and Palestinian doctors share a commitment to human life regardless of ethnicity, religion or nationality. Moreover, when it comes time to choose doctors, we base our choice on who is mostly likely to promote human life. If only we voted on the same basis!

Unfortunately, I had to experience the health care system personally before being able to appreciate this example of what Israelis and Palestinians can achieve. Despite the pain and suffering, I am grateful to have discovered such a hidden treasure of humanity at its best.

Aziz Abu-Sarah is director of Middle East projects at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, and a winner of the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Common Ground Journalism. His blog can be found at http://azizabusarah.wordpress.com.

This article was first printed in The Jerusalem Post.

Dancing to a different tune

Israel’s soldiers weren’t dirty dancing, they were just having fun.

IDF-tik-tok-dancers

We all know IDF soldiers march to a different tune. And now, thanks to YouTube, we can all see just how different that can be. Earlier this month, the talk of the town – first in Hebron and then, courtesy of the Web, throughout the global village – were Israel’s dancing soldiers.

The six highly trained Nahal soldiers from the Hod platoon of the 50th Battalion stepped out of line and began shooting – shooting a destined-to-be viral video, that is. The clip, under the title: “PALHOD 50 Rock the Casbah in Hebron,” clearly shows the troupe, I mean troops, breaking into a choreographed dance routine, dressed to kill, or rather kitted out in helmets and flak jackets to prevent them being killed, as they patrolled an empty street in Hebron. Kee$ha’s “Tik Tok” provided the beat.

The soldiers stepped on some toes and took some flak: In the context of the Middle East conflict almost no move, let alone something including a mix of “The Macarena,” “The Chicken Song” and “Tik Tok,” could pass quietly.

Predictably there were those who immediately accused them of dirty dancing. Some of the talkbacks went ballistic, going as far as accusing them of dancing on the blood of innocents, which just shows you that winning hearts and minds is a mission impossible.

Nonetheless, television stations in countries including Britain, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, the US, India and Brazil, couldn’t resist the temptation to show the clip and at least one broadcaster declared the soldiers “cute.” So we haven’t hit rock bottom yet.

While some Palestinians were quoted as complaining that the music of the dawn patrol dancers woke them up, a Yediot Aharonot report revealed the dance was filmed at 7pm, in a quiet area, and was taken in one shot without music, with a commander calling out the steps according to pre-rehearsed codes.

In Israel, incidentally, the song is better known as “Shir Hamekaplot” (The clothes folders’ song), from a series of skits on the popular Eretz Nehederet satire program, starring two apathetic salesgirls who go berserk when shoppers mess with the neatly stacked clothes.

The celebrity soldiers were not dancing for joy, but neither do they have any regrets, except that the clip, which was meant as an internal joke marking the end of their compulsory military service, was broadcast globally before they had been demobilized. Those who didn’t see the humor in the clip should keep in mind that as parting shots go, it could have been much worse.

I doubt that this is what Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein had in mind when he launched the Masbirim program encouraging individuals to take the initiative, but when it comes to battling an image problem, the soldiers were, in their inimitable way, probably more successful than much IDF-produced video material.

They won’t get a chance to get too big for their boots, however.

As soon as their end-of-service gag stopped being a secret, the soldiers knew they would have to face the music.

In the words of the IDF Spokesman’s Office, “Two squad commanders who were involved in the video were summoned for clarification. They took full responsibility for the act, and its severity and consequences were explained to them.”

However, OC Nahal Amir Abulafia obviously realized there’s no need to make a song and dance out of everything. He decided to impose an educational punishment and ordered the two to produce a video, with the help of the relevant IDF unit, instructing soldiers not to repeat this behavior. The dance, it seems, will not become a routine part of IDF service.

With most of the Hebron street dancers now out of the army, they might have time to watch what is billed as the “Battle of the Year, Israel 2010.” It turns out that while most of our attention has been focused on the life-and-death issues of military successes and failures, the country is gradually becoming a major player on the international breakdance scene.

The Seventh International Street Arts Festival, which has been taking place this month, culminated yesterday in Rishon Lezion with a fight for a chance to represent the country at the World Breakdance Championship in France later this year. (Info at www.breakdance.org.il and www.sa-p.co.il.)

According to Dvir Rozen, CEO of Street Art Productions and the Israel Breakdance Organization, a number of soldiers every year participate in the various local megaevents and Israel has already won several international awards in the field.

“The Israeli participants bring a special creative mind-set to the competitions, with their own unique flavor, and are motivated by a strong sense of Zionism. They want to show the world that though we’re a small country we’re here,” says Rozen.

The in-your-face-Zionism is evident in the name of one group considered among the favorites for the Battle of the Year showdown, Kosher Flava, whose South African-born, serving soldier Raphael (4Eyes) Nathan was profiled in the Post in March.

Rozen invites the demobilized Nahal soldiers to get in on the act but concedes they need more practice if they’re going to star outside of the army.

For the performance of their military careers, however, I salute them.

Liat Collins is the editor of the International Edition of the Jerusalem Post.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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Safe landings

There’s no guidebook to help when your son gets out of the army.

“What are you doing?” I recently barked at my oldest son, who was reclining on the couch in the middle of the afternoon, a beer in one hand and the second movie of the day playing on the television.

The sight of the lad just sitting there, doing nothing, triggered something in me that ran contrary to my basic instincts about the need to be productive, to constantly engage in something leading forward in life. If it was 10 pm, my reaction would have been different.

But three in the afternoon? “I guess I’m just getting used to civilian life,” he said, disarmingly.

And indeed, this disarmed me. With those few words, my anger toward the lad melted away, replaced instead by some irritation at myself.

My son had just finished his three year army duty, doing stuff I’d never done, carrying weight for distances I’d never walked, deplaning aircraft in ways I’d never dreamed of, taking on challenges and dangers I’d never had to face, and all I could do at the end of his difficult ride was upbraid him for watching television? What kind of father was I? Simple, I was a father without a playbook guiding me on what to do when one’s son gets out of the army, just as I had no notes instructing me on how to deal with his going in, or fighting a war, or going on late-night missions. In short, I was winging it, and – in this particular case – I was winging it badly.

Built into the three years of IDF service is a month at the very end called hofesh shihrur, abbreviated to hafshash, roughly equivalent to “mustering out leave.”

The army gives the soldiers a few weeks at the end when they are technically still in the army, but out on extended furlough – they have returned their weapons and equipment and will be called back only, God forbid, in time of war.

This is the twilight between being a soldier, and being a civilian.

For some it is accompanied by a seminar where they are given useful information about civilian life: their rights as ex-soldiers, national insurance, tax breaks, educational and employment opportunities and all kinds of handy hints for making it in the real world. For instance, they learn that most people don’t have three meals prepared for them each day, that the world is not their latrine and that buses are not free.

During the hafshash, the soldiers are generally not permitted to work. So they come home, drink beer, watch television, tell army stories, look at Facebook pictures of their just passed “glory years” and contemplate their futures.

Their parents, too, do a lot of contemplating.

They contemplate how lucky they are that their sons, or daughters, made it through the ordeal safely, sound of body and soul. They contemplate the historical privilege of living in an independent, self-reliant Jewish state, with independent, self-reliant Jewish kids to defend it. They contemplate how if their independent, self-reliant kids don’t get off the damn couch and carry their own weight in the house, they are going to go out of their minds.

It is one of the wonders of human psychology how such contrasting emotions can commingle within one simple mind; how one can be so proud of one’s son, yet at the same time so often irritated by him.

For three years, while my son was off soldiering, The Wife and I laid off. We kept things in, preferring to tiptoe around him on his Saturdays at home, rather than snapping at him for dishes not washed, beds not made, siblings not treated overly well.

No reason, I thought, to clutter the lad’s mind with superfluous thoughts about stupid fights at home, when the most important thing was for him to simply go back to the army each Sunday morning with a clear head, able to focus on keeping himself safe and sound.

Everything was secondary to that and could wait.

So tiptoe we did. Until the hafshash.

Then those little tiptoe ballerina shoes came flying off, replaced – almost overnight – by 10-pound hiking boots.

With my son no longer facing nightly danger, I could get mad at him just like before. Free at last.

Free to nag, free to carp, free to pester, badger and hassle. Now the lad could no longer look at me with those combat-weary eyes when I asked him to do something, silently signaling what a tough week he had. Now he couldn’t say, because he only got a couple hours of sleep throughout the week, that he needed to sleep for 14 hours straight.

Ideally the hafshash should serve as a buffer, and there is wisdom in it. Not only does it slowly ease the soldiers back into civilian life, it also gives their parents time to get used to the new reality.

How can I get mad at my son for not working during this month long furlough, if he is not allowed to work? By the end of the lad’s hafshash last Wednesday, when his regular army career formally ended, I had time to find the balance between all or nothing, between tiptoeing around him and kicking him in the teeth, between treating him like George Patton and Dennis the Menace.

Having now gone through my son’s army experience, I have come to appreciate the gradual nature of it all. Things build up, and wind down. The lad did not, from day one, go out and fight the bad guys: he had basic training, and then advanced training, and then specialized training, so by the time he was finally in any danger, The Wife and I were – to a certain degree – psychologically better prepared.

And just as the takeoff was somewhat gradual, so, too – thanks to the hafshash – is the landing.

When our friends realized that our son was about to get out of the army, they didn’t necessarily grasp the slow and plodding nature of the whole experience.

Instead, they said, “Three years already? Hey, that went fast.” To which my favorite reply was, “Right, for you.”

And their second comment was generally, “So what does he want to do now?” “Decompress,” I said, earnestly.

After three years in the service, the lad – thanks to his traveling plans and the academic calendar – will now likely decompress for the next two. Three years of service, two to decompress.

And he won’t be the only one decompressing. The Wife and I now also have two years to catch our breath – until the next son goes in, and this whole gut-churning ride starts all over again.

Herb Keinon is the diplomatic correspondent of The Jerusalem Post.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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Israeli hospital saves life of Palestinian boy

At Israel’s Emek Hospital, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish, Christian, or Moslem.

 

On Thursday, June 3, just three days after the Gaza flotilla raid, 15-year-old Muhammed Kalalwe was working in his family’s fields. They live in Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank, bordering Israel’s Jezreel Valley and the city of Afula. The boy noticed a deadly viper snake and tried killing it with a rock, but the dangerous creature struck out and bit his right palm.

Screams and panic ensued and within minutes, the boy’s father, Hafed, grabbed his stricken son and rushed him to the Jenin Hospital. They were ill-prepared to treat the boy, had no anti-serum and decided to send him by ambulance to the Emek Medical Center in Afula, Israel.

Emek, which was founded 86 years ago, is a community hospital that serves a culturally rich population that is equally divided (50/50) between Jews and Arabs. It has a mixed medical staff of Jews and Arabs, and its guiding philosophy is coexistence through medicine.

Hafed later related that he was genuinely afraid to be taken to Emek because he was sure that they would be ignored and not even spoken to. His son’s palm and arm were critically swollen and the pain was unbearable.

The humanitarian reality of Emek shocked both the father and son as they were immediately greeted in Arabic, rushed into the ER where Emek’s multi-ethnic staff administered life-saving anti-serum and brought the boy back from the brink of death.

Muhammed lay for the next two days in the pediatric intensive care unit and is now resting comfortably in Emek’s pediatric surgical department from where he will be released in the next couple of days.

I asked the father how he felt now about Emek Hospital and the Israelis he has come into contact with. “Our people do not know the truth about you and our medicine has a long way to go,” he told me. “My son and I are not the same as we were before this happened and I will share this with my family and friends.”

As he spoke, he gesticulated determinedly in a classic Middle Eastern style and when we shook hands as I wished them both well, the grip was firm and real. I have shaken many such hands and gazed into many Palestinian eyes that have seen a reality here at Emek Medical Center that they never expected to see.

Larry Rich is the director of development at Emek Medical Center in Afula.

Make the boycott go up in Pixie dust

Latest cancellation from the Pixies doesn’t mean the music stops.

 

Israeli music fans are not going to let some misguided, undereducated musicians ruin their good time.

Last Saturday night, more than 7,000 fans crowded the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds for the opening of the two-day Picnic music festival featuring British glam rockers Placebo, despite the last-minute cancellations of support acts, British indie rockers Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System.

In a case of Israeli on-the-spot ingenuity, they were ably replaced by JViewz, who had finished a short Israeli tour and delayed their return to New York at the request of promoter Shuki Weiss, and Rami Fortis, who brought along Balkan Beat Box clarinet player Eyal Talmudi. The show was opened – as scheduled – by the New York-via-Israel bass and drums duo Hank & Cupcakes.

While refunds to the show were made available following the two cancellations, only a handful of ticket holders took advantage of the offer, according to a representative of Mauranne Paz, the PR firm working with Weiss.

Meanwhile, across town at the Mann Auditorium, veteran British singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading was performing the second of two well-attended shows with her crack backup band – the first show having taken place on Friday night at the Shoni Fortress in Binyamina.

Those among the 3,400 people who attended one of the two shows expecting a laid-back offering were taken aback by a rocking Armatrading, showing off her electric guitar prowess many times while presenting a pleasing career overview including the hits Me Myself I and Drop the Pilot.

Nobody attending either the Picnic festival or one of the Armatrading shows was likely worrying about an increasing movement afoot by artists to boycott Israel. They were too busy enjoying world-class music presented by entertainers who were honoring their contracts and agreeing to perform for what were likely very comfortable fees.

That the Klaxons, Gorillaz Sound System and now, the Pixies – who were due to headline the second night of the Picnic festival on Wednesday – decided to join Elvis Costello and Gil Scott-Heron and renege on their signed contract to appear here is regrettable – and totally avoidable.

However, as Weiss pointed out in a statement to media on Sunday, “Events have gotten out of control. Intense pressure is being applied to foreign artists not to come to Israel. This is cultural terrorism.”

Unlike Costello and Scott-Heron, whose clear and above-board left-wing ideology gave them a pre-determined position on Israel, the Pixies have never been known to be a political band.

In fact, the whole philosophy of the band since their regrouping in 2004 has seemed to revolve around one thing – money. Never having cashed in on their cult status while still together in the ’90s, the quartet has done so with a vengeance in their second incarnation.

So why would a nonpolitical band, together apparently only for the money, cancel a big-gate date in Israel? The band’s statement, as released by promoter Weiss, declared that “events beyond all our control have conspired against us.”

If they were really upset over Israel’s actions regarding the flotilla, why didn’t they come out with a clear statement condemning us?

Evidently the flotilla saga is what also caused the Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System to jump overboard, even though neither act came right out and said it. Of course, for Costello and Scott-Heron, who canceled long before the flotilla set sail, it was simply Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that caused them to bail on their lifeboats.

The factor uniting all the acts that have decided that performing in Israel is worse than aligning themselves with those who would deny Israel’s right to exist is exactly something along the lines of what Weiss called “cultural terrorism.” From the moment a high-profile artist is booked into an Israeli venue, a non-stop barrage of e-mails, open letters and petitions rain down on them like stinging needles, prodding and irritating their consciences.

For example, in March, a group of Israeli self-proclaimed human rights activists calling themselves “Boycott!” urged the Pixies in a letter to cancel their show here, asking, “Are you prepared to perform in Tel Aviv while just under your nose millions of human beings are suffocating under a cruel Israeli military regime, denying them elementary human rights?”

Evidently, that appeal wasn’t effective enough. It took the media coverage proclaiming that the IDF killed nine human rights activists bringing aid to Gazans to do the trick.

Artists face the pressure to boycott Israel in different ways. Some, like Bruce Springsteen, have apparently decided not to even enter the argument by not entertaining any offers to appear here. Others have faced dilemmas over whether to perform in Israel or not – but as in the case of Leonard Cohen, those deliberations took place before the date was booked.

Once Cohen agreed to perform at Ramat Gan Stadium last year, he kept to his word. And when the calls for a boycott grew and his conscience grew heavy, instead of canceling, he and his management devised the idea of donating the proceeds to the show to Israeli and Palestinian organizations working toward reconciliation.

Costello also gave serious thought to the issues surrounding his performances here, but instead of reaching the same conclusion as Cohen, he decided to back out totally.

It’s unlikely, though, that much serious thought, aside from the accountant’s perspective, went into the decisions by the Pixies, Klaxons or Gorillaz Sound System to scuttle their shows. It was probably more like a knee-jerk response of “Israel was the bad guy in the flotilla scenario, the good guy human rights groups were condemning its actions, and we don’t want to be alienating our fan base by performing in a place that’s not Amnesty International-fully sanctioned.”

A decision on whether the Picnic festival’s second night – which is also slated to feature the up-and-coming British rockers the Editors and stellar local openers Carusella – will, like the first show, go on as planned with last-minute additions has not yet been made by Weiss.

Full refunds are being offered, but if fans really want to make a statement against cultural terrorism, they should ignore the fact that the Pixies canceled, and if the show still goes on, they should show up in full force. The Editors are pretty damn good, and they’ll look and sound even better on stage in contrast to the turmoil wrought by their colleagues.

Rod Stewart may not be much of a consolation prize for the Pixies musically, but in an interview on Sunday night, he emphatically stated that he’d be honoring his appearance at Ramat Gan Stadium on July 1.

With Rihanna and Metallica already having followed suit, and with Elton John, Jeff Beck and a slew of other major talents still on the way, it’s clear that despite the pressure and the scare tactics, the music is not going to stop. Just ask the 10,000 people who saw Placebo and Joan Armatrading on Saturday night.

David-Brinn David Brinn is the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. Before that he was the editorial director of ISRAEL21c, and was involved in the initial efforts at rebranding Israel.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

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