A glimpse of hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

I have many criticisms of Israel, but the functioning of its universal health care system earns my praise.

Aziz Abu Sarah 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Aziz Abu Sarah 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There many reasons to be pessimistic about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Yet even when things look hopeless, hope has a way of appearing. Recently, I caught a glimpse of this hope in the Israeli health-care system.
In December, I went for a routine checkup in east Jerusalem and received the news that what had seemed like a small lump in my neck was in fact thyroid cancer – devastating news for someone in his late 20s. I was quickly given a surgery date of May 17.
I immediately called my close friend Dr. Adel Misk, a Palestinian neurologist from east Jerusalem. Misk works in both Israeli and Palestinian hospitals, treating Palestinians and Israelis alike. He referred me to his colleague Dr. Shila Nagar, a Jewish Israeli endocrinologist.
When Misk referred me to Nagar, he was not thinking in terms of Palestinians and Israelis, but rather in terms of which specialist could best treat me. He was not concerned about religion or political opinions. He was concerned only about her track record as a doctor.
In the waiting room outside Nagar’s office, I couldn’t help but notice how many Palestinians were there. It did not bother them that she was Jewish. All the stereotypes of nationalist fervor were replaced by basic survival instincts.
I SHARED my thoughts about Israeli- Palestinian medical cooperation with Nagar, who told me a story of a Jewish friend of hers who had prostate problems.
One night he was suffering from a painful blockage and went to the emergency room. The doctor on duty was an Arab woman. He was not pleased: an Arab and a woman! At first he refused to let her treat him; however, as the pain increased he changed his mind. Years later, this Arab is his permanent doctor and a close friend. The experience was Nagar’s example of how humanity (and physical necessity!) can overcome nationalism.
Fast forward to the day of my surgery. In an ironic twist, here I was, a Palestinian journalist draped in a hospital gown covered in Stars of David.
I was stressed and fearful. Yet none of these emotions had to do with the nationality of my doctors. I was afraid of the surgery, and the possibility of not waking up. However, when I was brought to the operating room, I was given another dose of hope.
I had two surgeons, a Palestinian Arab and an Israeli Jew. The anesthesiologist was an extremely competent Russian who joked with me until I fell asleep.
Meanwhile, my family waited outside.
My wife and mother were both in tears, and later told me a Jewish woman waiting for news of her relative’s surgery had comforted them.
In the midst of the hatred, anger and bitterness of the conflict, you can still find glimpses of goodness – glimpses which offer practical examples of the dream we all share, of a future where we can live safe and full lives.
My surgery went extremely well, and I recovered quickly. Moreover, through this painful experience I caught a glimmer of hope in what seems like a hopeless environment. I have many criticisms of Israeli policies and politics, but the universal health-care system in Israel, with its ability to separate politics from medicine, earns my praise.
This is not to say the system is perfect; there are always issues of insurance and bureaucracy. However, when it matters most, Israeli and Palestinian doctors share a commitment to human life regardless of ethnicity, religion or nationality.
Unfortunately, I had to experience the health-care system personally before being able to appreciate this example of what Israelis and Palestinians can achieve.
I am grateful to have discovered such a hidden treasure of humanity.

The writer is director of Middle East projects at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, and a winner of the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Common Ground Journalism. His blog can be found at http://azizabusarah.wordpress.com.