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Two Muslim surgeons from Indonesia have arrived in Israel for a month-long course in coping with physical trauma at Haifa's Rambam Medical Center.
The physicians, Dr. Muhammad Usman and Dr. Muhammad Sakti, both in their early 30s, are the first to participate in such a course, which was organized and paid for by the Foreign Ministry's Mashhav (international cooperation) department.
The physicians' participation was initiated by medical authorities in Indonesia who are desperate for those of their physicians who were not killed in last year's tsunami to learn more about coping with mass catastrophes, said Steve Stein, an Israeli businessman who lives in Zichron Ya'acov and makes half-a-dozen trips a year to Indonesia to promote Israeli-Indonesian economic ties.
The current course, said Rambam emergency and trauma department head Dr. Moshe Michaelson, comprises 26 physicians from the 21 countries in the developing world including Korea, China, India, Sri Lanka, Ghana, and Kenya. This is the program's sixth year, but it is the first time that Indonesian physicians have joined a trauma course here, he said. "They are here officially; their flag is on display."
Despite a massive Muslim population, Stein said Indonesia's government "doesn't hate Israel and it understands Israeli needs and concerns." He added that "Those people who are educated, able to read and have their own opinion know that the Middle East conflict is not a religious one but one involving [who controls] the land."
He noted that about a dozen Indonesian delegations, many of them related to agriculture and science, have been here so far.
Stein was in Indonesia during the deadly tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in southeastern Asia nearly a year ago. A total of 300,000 Indonesians died in the tsunami and including 1,500 nurses, doctors and other medical professionals and their families.
"They believe Israel is second to none in dealing with trauma and mass casualty disasters and coping with terrorism, which also affect Indonesia. They are eager to come and we are planning additional programs with their medical societies. Once they return to their country, we'll be able to design specific programs suited to their training needs. How many are able to come depends on the amount of funding we get," Stein said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the participation of the two surgeons in the course was "a small step in the right direction."
In recent months there has been an upturn in contacts between Israeli and Indonesian officials, which culminated in a meeting at the UN in September between Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirajuda. Unlike Shalom's visit a few weeks earlier with his Pakistani counterpart, that meeting was closed to the press.
Israeli and Indonesian officials have had a degree of contact over the years. In January, following the tsunami disaster, Foreign Ministry director-general Ron Prosor met with senior Indonesian officials after accompanying an El Al plane laden with 75 tons of aid for Indonesian tsunami victims.
Shimon Peres visited the country in the summer of 2000, when he was regional cooperation minister, and met with then president Abdurrahman Wahid, with whom he had struck up a relationship.
Wahid is scheduled to take part in various events in Israel next week commemorating a decade since Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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