United Hatzalah leaders receive prize for peace in the Mid East

‘Political leadership has failed, so citizens have to step up.’

June 24, 2013 22:53
UNITED HATZALAH leaders Eli Beer (left) and Murad Alyan (far right) receive peace award.

united haztalah peace prize winners 370. (photo credit: STEVE LINDE)

No politician who has won a Nobel Peace Prize for peace in the Middle East has actually succeeded in bringing peace to the region, though he may have contributed toward that goal.

Sometimes the people on the ground who have no political agenda do a better job than the politicians.

A case in point is United Hatzalah, the emergency medical first response organization of volunteers which was founded by Eli Beer, whose singular goal is meeting an emergency in the shortest possible time with the aim of saving life, regardless of whose life it is.

United Hatzalah’s volunteers include both haredi and secular Jews and any definition in between, as well as Arabs and Druse.

Beer, together with Murad Alyan, a male nurse at Hadassah hospital and head of United Hatzalah’s east Jerusalem branch, are this year’s recipients of the Victor J. Goldberg Institute of International Education Prize for Peace in the Middle East.

The award ceremony was held on Monday at the US Embassy’s American Center in Jerusalem.

The IIE, founded in the US in 1919, has a network of 17 offices worldwide and more than 1,000 member-institutions.

The partnership between Beer and Alyan deserves recognition, said Hilary Olsin-Windecker, the US Embassy’s counselor for public affairs. Working as a team, they’ve brought together Jews and Arabs for the sole mission of saving lives and serve as a positive example to others.

Daniel Obst, IIE’s deputy vice president for international partnerships, came from New York for the award ceremony.

In order to achieve lasting peace, he said, “You have to have greater understanding between nations and peoples.”

The IIE’s Goldberg Prize recognizes the outstanding work done by two individuals – one Jewish and one Arab – working together to advance the cause of peace.

The prize is named in honor of Victor J. Goldberg, who after a 34-year career at IBA, where he reached the rank of corporate vice president, retired in 1993 and joined IIE’s board of trustees.

The award was established to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East; to bring people together across religious, cultural, ethnic and political divides; to break down barriers of hate toward the other; to recognize, invest and reward those who are courageous and committed enough to work to overcome the religious, cultural, ethnic and political issues that divide the region; to inspire others in the US and the Middle East; to motivate current and future participants in the IIE’s programs, especially those sponsored by the US Department of State; and to work toward peace in the Middle East.

Goldberg was proud that the award was being given for the ninth consecutive year.

In explaining the background to the award, he said that the IIE wanted to honor him and name a room after him. The idea didn’t appeal, so he was asked to think about something that was important to him and that wasn’t difficult at all.

Israel has always been important to him, particularly because the peace that Israel craves has been so elusive. He was 15 years old when Israel achieved independence.

He lived in Chicago next to immigrants with numbers on their arms and near a parochial school where everyone accused him of having killed Christ. The establishment of the State of Israel was the bright light in his firmament.

But for all of his adult life, there has been strife in the Middle East. The political leadership has failed, he said, and he was looking to find Jews and Arabs who were working together for peace.

Initially, finding such people seemed like a remote possibility.

But then, once the award was established, and he came into contact with people in different fields, in which Jews and Arabs were working together in various organizations and projects dedicated to equal rights, peace, empowerment, bereavement, research and so forth, he realized that there are people on both sides who have devoted their lives to peace initiatives.

On Monday morning Beer and Alyan took Goldberg to meet volunteers in Mea She’arim and in the Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem, and he was impressed by their enthusiasm and dedication.

He saw the ambucycles and the medical kits always ready to meet the next emergency.

However, on each of his visits to Israel, what strikes him as an American is that “equal privilege appears nowhere in sight.”

For Goldberg this evokes memories of the civil rights struggle in America, in which American Jews played a significant role.

As for effecting change in the Middle East, Goldberg said that political courage to create change is essential, but until that happens, private citizens are needed to be models for other agents of change.

Beer said that he and Alyan were accepting the award on behalf of 2,100 volunteers, and were donating the $10,000 prize to United Hatzalah toward another ambucycle or more defibrillators.

He said that in the morning, a call had come in from Silwan with regard to a child that had lost consciousness. Two volunteers, one a settler from the West Bank and another an Arab from east Jerusalem, responded to the call. They arrived together from different places, treated the child and then drove off.

They were still wearing their helmets when they met up with Beer, Alyan and Goldberg. Beer asked Goldberg to guess which of the two was the Arab, and Goldberg couldn’t tell until they removed their helmets and the sidelocks of one of the two men fell from the top of his head to frame his face. He was also the one wearing a kippa.

Alyan said that without the encouragement of his wife Safa urging him to save people whenever he has to, he did not know where he would be today.

He was hopeful that the prize “will motivate more volunteers to share what we do.”

Beer said that Alyan had put him to shame and promptly paid tribute to his wife, Giti, and their five children, who have constantly supported his efforts.

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