On a recent Wednesday morning, volunteer emergency medical technician Sanaa Mahameed was the first responder on the scene as fire and rescue personnel extricated two injured people from their vehicles following a car crash.
Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents aren’t a rare occurrence. What was unusual about this scene is that the woman tending the wounded was a religious Muslim who modestly covers her hair and neck with a hijab.
Sanaa Mahameed holds the distinction of being the first female Muslim volunteer EMT in the United Hatzalah of Israel voluntary first-responder network, whose total volunteer force of 4,000 includes about 320 Muslims and 330 women.
United Hatzalah international spokesman Raphael Poch describes Mahameed as one of the most active volunteers in Umm al-Fahm, an Arab town in the Haifa district.
“Sanaa Mahameed is a powerhouse of lifesaving. She has spent the better part of her adult life dedicating her time to save the lives of others,” Poch said.
In addition to her volunteer work with United Hatzalah, Mahameed drives an ambulance for the local EMS organization Kahol-Lavan (Blue-White) and works at a government health clinic in her town. She often serves as the EMT on duty at collegiate and high school sporting events and as the accompanying EMT on school field trips.
Mahameed, now 30 years old, explained that she decided to go into this type of work following a tragic incident in her own family when she was 16.
“I was home alone one night when my aunt called me and asked if there was an adult home. I told her I was alone. She had a sense of urgency in her voice and she sounded frightened. I told her to tell me what was wrong. She told me in a broken voice that her husband sat down on the sofa and was now unable to move. I threw down the phone and ran to their home as fast as I could go.”
The alarmed teenager entered the house and saw her uncle sitting on the sofa, not moving. “His daughter was standing over him screaming at him, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Please wake up!’ I called for an ambulance and they came fairly quickly but it was still too late,” she recalled.
“From that day onwards I knew that I would dedicate my life to saving other people by becoming an EMT so that I would know how to help people no matter what was occurring around me. That is precisely what I did,” Mahameed said.
“I began training to be an ambulance driver. I took courses on how to respond to large-scale disaster incidents such as earthquakes.” Someday she’d like to complete paramedic training and fly an emergency response helicopter.
Mahameed said her religious adherence has never gotten in the way of her work and she is respected by her fellow volunteers, including those who work together with her locally in the all-Muslim Shibli chapter, one of three Muslim chapters in United Hatzalah thus far.
And now, Mahameed is no longer alone. United Hatzalah, together with the government’s Office of the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee, recently trained 13 Bedouin women, all religious Muslims from Shibli and Umm al-Ghanam, to be EMTs.
“One of the main reasons why we felt that this project was important is because these women often stay at home or work in their towns during the day, much more than the men do,” explained United Hatzalah Founder and President Eli Beer.
“Thus, these new volunteers will be able to provide emergency medical response in their towns during the daytime hours far more than their male counterparts. They will provide EMS services to their own towns and the Arab and Jewish towns in the vicinity.”
In addition, the organization recently inaugurated a new 19-member team of volunteer first responders in the Mount Hebron region, 14 of whom are religious Jewish women.