Gaza nurses train in Israel: 'We speak of health, not politics'

“It’s different than I thought," said one nurse. "The people are very nice. You have Jews and Palestinians working together. It minimizes the gaps between us.”

Farid Mustafa from Nablus (left) and Akram Abu Salah from Gaza train at Sheba Medical Center (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Farid Mustafa from Nablus (left) and Akram Abu Salah from Gaza train at Sheba Medical Center
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Five nurses from the Gaza Strip and 11 from the West Bank were in Israel this week for four days of medical training, conducted by Israeli physicians through a collaboration between Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR) and the Medical Simulation Center (MSR) at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.
“I could not imagine how this country would be or how it works,” Akram Abu Salah, a nurse from the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post in his heavily-accented English. “It’s different than I thought. The people are very nice. You have Jews and Palestinians working together. It minimizes the gaps between us.”
Although collaboration between MSR and PHR began close to a decade ago, this is the first time that training has been provided to nurses. In the past, physicians and ambulance drivers have been trained.
Participants learned new practices in the field of primary medicine, with a focus on the skills these nurses might need in emergency situations. For example, they learned best and innovative practices for stopping bleeding, intubation and chest drains. There was also one day focused on advanced cardiovascular life support.
They trained daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the evenings, they enjoyed short social activities with their Israeli counterparts and then slept at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan. A spokesperson for Sheba told the Post that four out of five of the Gazans had never been outside of the Strip.
The travelers said they were taken aback by Israel’s beauty, and even more so by the size of Sheba and the sophisticated training available through MSR.
Israel’s center for medical simulation was founded in 2001 to lead a nationwide effort to introduce new standards and innovative approaches in health care training and patient-safety education for the benefit of the people of Israel. A press release on the center describes a 2,400-square-meter facility designed as a virtual hospital that encompasses the whole spectrum of medical simulation modalities – from role-playing actors for communication and clinical-skills training to cutting-edge, computer-driven, full-body mannequins that enable team training for challenging/high risk clinical conditions.
Inside Israel, MSR has trained more than 20,000 healthcare professions; the Palestinians are an additional program.
“I am very happy for the chance to attend this advanced trauma course. In Gaza, we have a lot of problems, and Israel can teach us,” Abu Salah said.
“The Ministry of Health [in Gaza] wants to me to take the experience and bring it back to my country,” he explained.
But he admitted that some of it might not be transferable to Gaza, where hospitals are often understaffed and lack basic necessities and medications, including chemotherapy drugs.
PROF. RAPHI WALDEN, president of PHR, said he helps arrange missions of Israeli doctors to Gaza nearly every month to perform advanced surgery and provide training to Gaza physicians by Israeli experts in the realms of gastroenterology, oncology and more.
“It’s appalling,” Walden said of the situation in Gaza. “Just terrible conditions. The main hospital in Gaza has empty shelves, they are missing critical medications. There was a time they did not have the liquid needed to clean the skin before surgery. Everything is missing. It is a real humanitarian disaster there.”
It is also a real challenge to get the Gazan and West Bank medical professionals into Israel.
Walden said he applied for 40 nurses to attend this recent training and only 16 were approved. Of the five female nurses who tried to attend from Gaza, only one was approved.
“We have perfect cooperation with the health authorities in Gaza, but the problem is Israeli security,” Walden told the Post. “We apply months in advance.”
And even with the advanced application and pre-approval, the Gazan nurses were delayed entry for a day for security reasons.
Abu Salah said he received a call at 11 p.m. from the Gazan Ministry of Health the night before he was granted entry and told, “tomorrow, you will travel to Israel.”
“I was sleeping, but I packed my bag and prepared to go,” he told the Post. “My wife knows I am here, but my extended family does not know. I can only tell them when I get back.”
He said his visit is supported by the Hamas-run health ministry, but he would not comment on how he would be received upon his return or the questions he might be asked by Hamas officials.
“We speak of health, not politics,” he told the Post.
However, Walden told a story of how last year a team of 12 emergency response doctors came for training in Israel. They returned on a Thursday; the next morning, 110 Palestinians were injured by the IDF during a Gaza border riot.
“It is a surrealistic situation,” Walden said.
Farid Mustafa from Nablus and Ayman Ibrahaim Amaya from Qalqilya expressed similar sentiments.
Amaya told how in the West Bank, patients are stopped in ambulances on their way to treatment, delaying service that can sometimes lead to complications. Mustafa said that no matter how many times soldiers see the same medical professionals or the same ambulances, they take time at checkpoints to photograph the vehicles and the people’s IDs and more.
“All human beings have a right to receive medical treatment on time,” Amaya complained to the Post, pointing out the contradiction between being trained to provide better care in Israel while the Jewish state stops West Bank medical professionals from providing that care.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry website explains that there have been documented cases of Palestinians abusing the neutrality of ambulances and medical facilities for terrorist purposes – hence the IDF has to use caution and cannot allow Palestinian ambulances to travel through checkpoints unabated.
PHR protested the IDF’s procedures but was overruled by the Supreme Court.
Walden said that despite the challenges, he believes PHR is creating “a microcosm of goodwill and understanding in this crazy situation of conflict.
“Beside the medical aspect of the work,” he said, “another aspect no less important is the opportunity to meet with people and establish common ground. It’s a peace building activity – and a little light and the end of the tunnel.”