These quiet voices of pragmatism hold the ultimate key to the survival of us all.In 1972 at the age of 25, I left a comfortable life in the business world of the United States and set out to discover who I really was. After a year of traveling the world alone on a motorcycle, I ended up in Israel. Throughout the next 34 years, I experienced life as a farmer, soldier, father, city dweller and international businessman. Ultimately, I discovered a world within the one I was living.
It happened in 1997, after already living in Israel for 25 years, when I suffered a heart attack while managing a large industry. It may sound odd, but that near fatal event was one of the best things that ever happened to me. When I woke up, I was in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of Emek Medical Center (EMC), that sits on the seam line between Afula and the Palestinian enclave of Jenin.
I saw something that changed my life; two physicians, one Arab and one Jew, who were working together to save my life. That vision and unexpected reality fascinated me and was the catalyst that drove me to find out more.
After my release, I left the industrial world and became professionally involved with EMC because I sensed there was a story that needed telling. Here, in this multi-ethnic medical institution in a region equally divided between Arabs and Jews, Jews were saving Arabs, Arabs were saving Jews, Jewish & Arab patients and families were intermingling and stereotypes were discarded in favor of a refreshingly healthier mindset. Coexistence through medicine.
I’ve witnessed Palestinian mothers who were deathly afraid to set foot in this hospital undergo an absolute transformation after multi-ethnic teams of physicians saved their children from certain death. I’ve seen a Jewish vascular surgeon who saved the limbs of Palestinian militants… later blown up in a suicide bombing. I’ve spoken with Jewish surgeons who view their Muslim colleagues as no different than themselves and I’ve witnessed Jews and Arabs crying and laughing together and holding hands while sharing a slice of life.
I was a soldier for 17 years, fought in two wars and never understood until now that there is a hidden side to this conflict. It’s hidden because quiet everyday people who shake hands and hug aren’t as attention or headline grabbing as a deranged soul who blows him or herself up among a throng of innocent strangers. There are many Jews and Arabs who understand and are prepared to accept one another as human beings. It is for this reason that I decided to write Voices From Armageddon.
I am aware of a reality that the suffocating negative and sensationalist world media has conspicuously overlooked. In Israel, within the heart of the conflict, there are Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, who have discovered that beyond the hate and mistrust there is humanity. At the Emek Medical Center, these are the quiet voices of hope and pragmatism who hold the ultimate key to the survival of us all.
The inspirational true human dramas that I share are not to be misconstrued as the simplistic solution to the Middle East conflict. They are merely shining and eloquent examples of humanity at its best… that, if focused upon, have the power to change people’s preconceptions and fears of one another.
Abraham Lincoln once wisely said, “The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend”. It’s happening here, of all places, in the Valley of Armageddon. One by one, handshake after handshake and hug after hug, Jews and Arabs are discovering and making friends with each other. Blind hate gives way to a startlingly refreshing reality and negative stereotypes melt away into the awareness of simple human kindness. Arab and Jew are learning that it is ok to care for one another with dignity and there is no threat in sharing a cup of tea, eye contact and communication.
From the chapter, ‘A Viper, Salaam and Hope’:
Kamla, the Palestinian mother of thirteen year old Salaam (Arabic for peace), would not let her daughter be taken to the Israeli Emek Medical Center after being bitten by a poisonous and deadly viper snake. “No!” she shouted, “Not to the Jews! Take us to Arab Nazareth… to our own people”. That emotional and unfounded outburst nearly cost Kamla the life of her daughter, Salaam. Ultimately, faced with an unconscious and dying child, the mother and daughter were raced to the Israeli hospital where Jewish and Arab surgeons work feverishly to save the little girl’s life. “How can this be?” asked Kamla to a Muslim surgeon. “You are an Arab and you work here with the Jews. Why are you doing this for a stranger from Jenin?” After long dark days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, when the little girl was finally awake and recuperating, I asked Palestinian Kamla, “How do you feel now among the Jews and Arabs of Israel?” She looked from me to the Arab and Jewish faces faces surrounding her and said, “I would never have believed such a thing to be possible. May Allah bless you all.”
I survive with suffocating hate all around me… within a cocoon of coexistence. It’s real and it’s alive. And it’s there for anybody who cares to focus upon it.