What the human cell can teach us about the controversial Jerusalem move

Understanding how a cell delivers a message from its inner space to the outer milieu is critical for learning about states of health and disease.

June 3, 2018 04:52
3 minute read.
What the human cell can teach us about the controversial Jerusalem move

Alia Tunisi, a school teacher, and one of her students at Jerusalem's Hand in Hand Arab-Jewish bilingual school.. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)


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Each human cell has innumerable protein channels on its surface. These channels help transport molecules in and out of the cell. One can define these channels as intra-cellular (inside the cell), reflecting the cell’s inner content. Yet, one can equally well consider them extra-cellular (outside the cell) as they directly interact with the surroundings of the cell, allowing sensing of and communication with the outside world.

Understanding how a cell delivers a message from its inner space to the outer milieu is critical for learning about states of health and disease. However, the issue of whether these channels as internal or external is mere semantics. In other words, the ability of cells to communicate with one another is independent of whether you consider those channels internal or external.

The political situation that unfolded in Gaza in recent days, a response to the US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, follows similar semantic lines. Jerusalem is the cultural-spiritual heart for the three religious groups residing within it. The city is a mosaic of religious practices, serving as the holy base for all three faiths. The classification of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital represents mere refinement to conventional nomenclature. It reflects a voluntary selection of the label “capital” to a city that will continue to serve the faith-based needs of multiple people.

Does the title of a city matter? With its holy sites remaining in the same space and retaining the same functions, does anything change with a purely linguistic alteration? I would argue that, as long as its cultural freedom is maintained, there will be no meaningful difference to the spiritual core of the city of Jerusalem.

When it comes to cultural freedom, the US – despite its controversial decision on Jerusalem – has much to teach the Middle East. I have been working as a physician in Philadelphia for the past three years. In my time here, interacting closely with nurses, technicians, physical therapists and doctors of all races and colors, and taking care of patients and families of all branches of human heritage and ancestry, I have been inspired by an enviable tolerance and equilibrium between the various ethnic groups. Despite past experience with racism and slavery, a healthy balance among the many members of the American society blurs any lines of race, skin color or accent.

Israel, in many dimensions, does exemplify outstanding ethnic diversity. In my earlier years in Israel, I witnessed fruitful collaboration between Israeli Jews and Arabs, in busy departments of major hospitals, in academic institutions and elite high schools, as well as in many other walks of life. Israeli hospitals, with both Jewish and Israeli Arab staff, have long provided high-quality medical care to Palestinian victims of war, Syrian refugees and anyone in need of medical attention.

Arabs and Jews have a common language even if they speak different dialects (Arabic and Hebrew both have Semitic origins). When I started medical school I was transformed by an acquaintance with a Palestinian medical student who posted a Palestinian Liberation Organization flag in our shared dormitory space but – one month later, upon becoming my best of friends – replaced it with an Israeli flag.

Arabs and Jews, both inside and outside of Israel, yearn to live in harmony. The only faction that is spreading intolerable waves of hatred and mistrust appears to be the political one. The abhorrence and racism radiating from Israeli and Arab leaders has been and continues to be the source of endless conflicts and bloodshed. It keeps blinding each of the respective populations, leading laypersons of either side to become more extremist and fanatical than they would have ever been. But persons on both sides know that, at the fundamental level, the two people crave for the exact same thing: peace and freedom.

We may take important lessons from the cells that form our bodies. Cells do not care if one structure is labeled X or Y, or if it is classified as belonging to one compartment or another. In a healthy state, cells do not wage devastating battles to exert dominance over other territories in the body. As long as it can satisfy its purpose in life, a cell will continue with its defined mission, and avoid wasting energies on reckless actions. In a way, cells are much more rational (and smart) than human beings. Arabs and Jews should take note of the human cell, its purposeful and ego-free nature, rather than fall prey to politicians’ ill-informed moves.

The author is a resident physician at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. He will start his hematology- oncology fellowship at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, in July 2018.

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