Last year, they organized more than 20,000 rides with 1,900 volunteers for more than 40,000 people traveling 1.3 million kilometers, so that Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza could enter Israel to receive urgent medical treatment or support a patient who was receiving treatment in the Jewish state.
Now, the volunteer leaders of “Road to Recovery” will receive the 15th annual Institute of International Education’s Victor J. Goldberg Prize in recognition of their work across cultures and borders.
Israeli Yuval Roth and Palestinian Naeem Al-Baeda will receive the award on June 12 at a ceremony in Jerusalem. The event will be attended by Victor Goldberg himself, as well as Allan Goodman, IIE’s CEO; Chris Hodges, public affairs officer at the Palestinian Affairs Unit of the US Embassy Jerusalem; and Terry Davidson, public affairs officer for the US Embassy in Tel Aviv.
The team was selected from dozens of applicants by some of the foremost leaders around the world, including Susan Berresford, former president of the Ford Foundation; George Rupp, former dean of Harvard Divinity School; and Harold Tanner, former chairman of both the American Jewish Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, among other judges.
ROTH, a resident of the northern community of Pardes Chana, started the organization in 2010, several years after his own brother was murdered by an Arab. Then, a Palestinian from Jenin had asked him for help getting to Rambam Medical Center. He had already been involved in Palestinian-Israeli dialogues and friendship circles, so he said “I would try. After all, he is my neighbor,” Roth recalled in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
After that first call, he started to get additional appeals – so many in fact, that he could not handle them all on his own.
“I started with my circle, then the Internet and finally I advertised,” Roth said. “It just snowballed.”
Then he met Al-Baeda, now the coordinator for the central region, who began arranging volunteer drivers on the Palestinian side after a relative of his required medical treatment. He now manages patient transfers at checkpoints. There can be as many as 140 per day across the country.
“I start at 5:30 in the morning,” Al-Baeda told the Post, “and I don’t stop until the job is done. I am the connector.”
Neither Roth nor Al-Baeda – or any of the volunteers – are paid for their work. Some are reimbursed for their gas, though.
Palestinian patients are brought to Israel when doctors in the West Bank don’t have the skills or the facilities to provide needed care. Treatments vary, but cancer is among the most frequently treated diseases. In 2018, of the 6,000 Palestinian cancer patients from Judea and Samaria, 1,200 were treated in a hospital in Israel – including in east Jerusalem – according to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
Additionally, in 2018, more than 200 patients from Judea and Samaria – including 112 children – received bone marrow transplants in Israeli hospitals. Some 18 patients received eye neoplasms, and 103 received cornea transplants with treatment at St. John’s Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem, COGAT told the Post
in a previous interview.
THE PALESTINIAN Authority announced it would stop providing its citizens with medical treatment in Israel beginning in March 2019, in response to Israel’s implementation of the “Pay-for-Slay” Law that instructs the state to deduct and freeze the amount of money the PA pays in salaries to imprisoned terrorists and families of “martyrs” from the tax money it collects for the PA. The law was passed in July 2018 and approved for implementation by Israel’s security cabinet this year. In 2019, the cabinet is withholding approximately $138 million. According to PA Ministry of Health Spokesman Osama Al-Najjar, the cost of the referrals to the Israeli hospitals is around $100 million a year.
Al-Baeda said, however, that anyone who was already receiving treatment in Israel has continued. And, while additional options in Jordan and Egypt are being explored, treatment currently continues in Israel.
“New people get in when the treatment will save their lives,” Al-Baeda told the Post. “There is no such thing as they don’t get care. If they need care, we don’t give up; we don’t say no.”
Aside from the medical benefits of the program, Road to Recovery creates a safe space for positive interaction and better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through a mutual commitment to bridging the divide through access to medical treatment. While it is an apolitical organization, its leaders believe that compassionate assistance presents a unique opportunity for Palestinians and Israelis to get to know each other, creates hope in this troubled region, and can contribute, at least in small part, to peace between the two peoples.
“It is a small peace,” Al-Baeda said with a chuckle. “They sit together for an hour and they build a connection. They start to get to know each other. The volunteer visits the sick patient and their families. They support one another.
“The goal is to meet one another,” he continued. “If you don’t meet the other, you think he wants to kill you. When you meet, you see there can be mutual respect – and even love.”
He said that he and Roth dedicate their whole lives to this project because they believe that Palestinians and Israelis can live together as neighbors and friends.
“I want hugs and smiles, not guns,” he said.
Road to Recovery encapsulates Goldberg’s vision, he told the Post. He said he has been a Zionist since he was a child in the 1930s, before the founding of the State of Israel. However, at a certain point, he “became more and more uncomfortable with the strife associated with the country.”
Since he founded the prize 15 years ago, it has given him hope.
“No matter what the strife, if rockets are flying or not, we have always found people working together for peaceful, humanistic solutions – and that has been the source of great joy,” he said.
Added CEO Goodman: “We have discovered another Israel, an Israel of grassroots activism and compassion, where there are no divides keeping people from doing the right thing. It is a very different Israel than one you will read about in The New York Times
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