In Israel – and not only here – a politician shoots his mouth off with some ill-advised pronouncements and the media picks them up with glee and inflates what is a non-story, or at most a sidebar, into a national sensation.
This was my strong feeling about the recent hoo-ha over a number of hospitals’ apparently acceding to the requests of some women, Arab as well as Jewish, that they be separated in the maternity ward.
Racism? The impression – as Jerusalem Post reporter Ben Hartman wrote in a “first person” account of his hospital experience as a new father – is that most women about to give birth are far more preoccupied with their own imminent travail and its hoped-for result than with who is lying in the bed next to them gearing up for a similar effort.
Shock and horror and a firestorm of accusations and denials of discrimination from all parts of the political spectrum followed a tweet by the Bayit Yehudi Party’s Bezalel Smotrich to the effect that after delivering her baby, his wife wants to rest and not have to endure the large family parties that are typical of Arab families.
This might have passed unnoticed had the far-right MK not gone on to state that his wife doesn’t want “to lie next to someone who has just given birth to a baby who in 20 years might want to murder her baby.”
The MK, a bull in the china shop of Israeli-Arab coexistence, reiterated these views to a midday radio talk show host, ensuring they would be blown out of all proportion.
NOW ANY unbiased individual who thinks facts are important and bothers to learn them knows that Israeli hospitals are places where Jewish physicians treat Arab patients, and Arab physicians treat Jewish ones without discrimination; that even terrorists who have killed or maimed innocent people lie in beds not far from their victims, receiving the best professional care without regard to who they are or what they have done.
There has been much debate over whether badly wounded terrorists should or should not be treated at the scene before those of their victims who seem less seriously harmed.
Most medical professionals have expressed the opinion that they should.
These facts and others irregardless, those who wish to vilify Israel will continue doing so. But remarks such as Smotrich’s show a lamentable lack of judgment seeing that Jews and Arabs will continue to mingle in our hospitals not as Jews or Arabs, but simply as human beings in need of medical care. Nor do such comments give heart to Arabs who oppose terrorism.
While it was needlessly provocative of the MK to project a just-born Arab baby 20 years into the future as the potential killer of his own newborn, his first tweet about his wife preferring a bit of post-partum peace to the hubbub of the traditional Arab birth celebration didn’t strike me as beyond the pale.
WHEN I was undergoing a period of enforced rest in Jerusalem’s old Misgav Ladach hospital in 1986, I happened to occupy a two-bed room with a young Arab woman who had just had a baby. We communicated mainly with gestures and smiles, and for some days, I got a bird’s-eye view of how an Arab family welcomed a new addition.
As the morning brightened, a fair number of family members would gather in our smallish room, perching wherever they could and implying a protracted stay. On at least one occasion, they passed the baby around and gave it minuscule sips of tea. I was in the first trimester of pregnancy and feeling nauseous, so I was happy to donate my midday chicken meal to the new mother’s sister, a large smiling woman who received it gratefully.
At two o’clock every day, a nurse would poke her head in the door, tap her watch meaningfully, and inform the assembled company: “Patients’ rest time until four p.m.; please leave!” And every day I would watch, fascinated, as the entire clan half-rose out of their seats, like a wave; and then, as the nurse retreated, sank back down again. They never did leave, and we didn’t get much afternoon rest.
Now that was just one family I observed a long time ago; and while I don’t imagine that traditional customs change so quickly, Ben Hartman clearly expressed how, in a hospital setting or anywhere else, consideration for others’ needs, or the lack of it, has more to do with actual individuals and their degree of sensitivity than to which community they belong. “There’s no ethnic component that determines whether someone is inconsiderate or a pain in the neck,” he wrote. “It’s an equal-opportunity gene that affects members of all the Abrahamic religions.”
But if some mothers-to-be request a mono-cultural environment during and following labor, that would surely be discriminatory only if the quality of care depended on who was receiving it; which is proven not to be the case in Israeli hospitals.
The initial media flurry, in its righteous indignation, didn’t produce any numbers, and later reports of polls taken showed that most Israelis oppose segregated maternity wards. The vast majority, moreover, said they would be willing to have an Arab doctor treat them. Only 13% were against.
A FEW points need to be made. Most obviously, as letters to The Jerusalem Post have stressed, many hospitals need to be far stricter than they currently are about limiting visiting hours to ensure patients get the peace and quiet they need. Had Misgav Ladach had such a policy in the 1980s, my accidental Arab “roommates” would have received short shrift for overstaying the appointed hour.
That said, after my daughter gave birth last year at Bnei Brak’s Ma’ayanei Hayeshua hospital, I was unmercifully shooed off the premises in the early afternoon even though she had a private room and declared that she wanted me to stay, and I pleaded that I had come all the way from Jerusalem.
Another point is the heightened emotional state of pregnant and newly delivered women and their need to feel relaxed and in control as much as possible. If a woman makes a request – of the kind that got pols and pundits gratuitously frothing at the mouth – why shouldn’t the maternity ward quietly accommodate her if it can? Something that outsiders – and, it seems, many insiders too – seem to ignore or be blithely unaware of is that we in Israel live in an incredibly complex and challenging reality, coexisting with “cousins” most of whom wish us no harm, but many of whom do.
We are, moreover, experiencing a period of sudden vicious physical attacks by lone individuals that have the bravest of us glancing over our shoulders as we walk in the street or wait at bus stops.
We are, as one commentator put it, living in a pressure cooker that is constantly threatening to blow up, with many segments of the population “just waiting for sparks to light their fires of rage.” These sparks, regrettably, the media seems all too ready to ignite.
My take on the maternity ward kerfuffle is that a nuanced reality such as ours demands an equally nuanced response – the opposite of what emerged from the Knesset and over the airwaves.