A growing number of Palestinians are being personally chauffeured to life-saving medical appointments in Israel by volunteer Israeli drivers.
It took more than half of her young life for doctors to diagnose two-year-old Aya Aiid Abo-Mois’s chronic kidney disease. Today, it’s the dialysis she receives four times a week at an Israeli hospital that keeps her alive.
In the Palestinian Authority city of Jenin in the West Bank where she lives there are no adequate facilities to treat her rare condition. Aya has been receiving treatment at an Israeli hospital ever since she was rushed to Jerusalem suffering from kidney failure earlier this year.
“She comes like clockwork with her mother, very happy and cheerful,” attending physician Dr. Daniella Magen tells ISRAEL21c. Dr. Magen is a pediatric nephrologist at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa where Aya now receives her treatment, closer to home.
Counteracting foreign media reports that the Israeli government routinely denies Palestinians access to quality healthcare: “It’s never happened that the authorities didn’t let her though,” says Magen.
Magen says that Aya receives the same medical treatment as any Israeli citizen, adding that the Israeli hospital will help to arrange a transplant when Aya is old enough. The only way to prolong Aya’s future indefinitely, Magen tells ISRAEL21c, is to ensure that she undergoes both a liver and a kidney transplant to overcome the genetic disease Oxalosis that is causing her kidneys to fail.
Driving the road to recovery
This is just one story about how Israelis and Palestinians are working together to ensure that children in the PA have access to healthcare in Israel when necessary. The Palestinian Authority and private donors foot the bill and Magen confirms that doctors treat all patients equally, regardless of nationality.
It takes a network of volunteers from the PA and Israel to make sure that Aya and her mom Sahir have the necessary permits to travel from Jenin. Their morning starts early, at about 5 a.m., when they wait for a driver from among the volunteer coordinators at “Way to Recovery” to transport them from their home to the hospital.
Way to Recovery numbers about 50 volunteers. Founded in 2006 by the Israeli-Palestinian Forum of Bereaved Families, requests for transport from the PA to Israel increase slightly each month.
It all began when a Palestinian member of the forum asked one of the Israeli members, Yuval Roth, to help him travel to Rambam Hospital. Roth had lost his brother 15 years before – he was murdered by Hamas terrorists while hitchhiking. Now, Roth’s efforts to help Palestinians reflect how much some Israelis yearn for peace.
He told a local newspaper: “When I drive a Palestinian patient to a hospital in Israel, I am paving the way to a close relationship between the peoples. I am fed up with talk of peace. We have to take action on the ground, and this is what I am doing, together with all the volunteers who lend a hand to this matter.”
The hospital is her second home
Aya’s connection to Israel started early this year when she was taken to the Jenin Governmental Hospital with kidney failure. When her condition worsened, she was transported to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem where she received dialysis treatment three times a week for more than a month. As Jerusalem is far from Jenin, her parents – who have three other young children at home – requested that Aya undergo dialysis at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
According to hospital staff, Rambam has become like a second home to Aya and her mom. The hospital is a unique meeting point for the different cultures in Israel. In its wards and waiting rooms, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians and Jews meet eye-to-eye and learn about each other’s personal lives.
The Rambam staff will help Aya to obtain a transplant abroad when the time comes. In the past they have sent patients to Jordan, where western physicians perform operations. According to Israeli law, only Israeli citizens are entitled to transplants in the country. Waiting lists are extremely long.
Magen works with Yavid on the Palestinian side to take care of logistics for the Aya: “I write a letter in English asking for what I need for [Aya] and this goes to the authorities and to the army. She now has a constant permit – a certificate to come to Israel on a daily basis for dialysis.”
Working under a senior physician in the ward, Magen says that the hospital takes care of children from all over, “including children from the Gaza Strip, Schem (Nablus) and Hebron and we are asked to do our best. I also know there are many Palestinian children with cancer coming to Israeli hospitals,” she adds.