Hospitals' healing power and diversity must become the norm - opinion

Hospitals are hotspots of diversity with doctors and nurses of every type, religion, culture and background.

Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Mount Scopus Emergency Medicine Department with her Jewish and Arab staff. (photo credit: ROSSELLA TERCATIN)
Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Mount Scopus Emergency Medicine Department with her Jewish and Arab staff.
(photo credit: ROSSELLA TERCATIN)

I recently spent ten days living in Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, as my 21-year-old daughter, injured in an accident, was hospitalized with second-degree burns on significant areas of her legs and arm. 

The experience as a mother was agonizing – watching your child in excruciating physical and emotional pain, halting her young, active life. The roller-coaster ride – vacillating, sometimes within moments, between gratitude, regret, anger and sorrow – is a humbling human experience. In addition to the personal challenge, it provided an opportunity to experience and reflect on our complex, nuanced, moving and inspiring reality, encapsulating everything that is Israel.

In the elevator up to the seventh-floor burn/plastics ward, a Jewish surgeon speaks to his Arab colleague, while a religious family stands next to a group of young secular friends. On the seventh floor itself, the diversity of nurses and hospital staff is something that few believe exists, many ignore and some prefer to hide: a mosaic of religions, languages, cultures and backgrounds, all welcomed and focused on a singular goal: providing and receiving the best care by and for whomever the medical professional or patient might be – young and old, Jewish, Arab, Christian, Druze, who are at varying degrees of religious affiliation, practice and everything in between.

Even as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) prepares to issue yet another anti-Israel report at its June session – this time likely peddling libelous accusations of apartheid made by organizations that have appropriated and weaponized human rights, undermining their very mandate – Israeli society lives on, in all its complex, glorious diversity. 

B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, soon to be joined by the commission of inquiry into the 2021 Gaza war, utter cross-fertilized false accusations, deliberately driven by a political agenda, not human rights one, enabling the mutation and permeation of antisemitism as defined by the IHRA.

Hadassah-University Medical Center, in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem (credit: Courtesy)Hadassah-University Medical Center, in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem (credit: Courtesy)

BY FALSELY labeling or applying myopic social constructs to alternate realities, these insidious accusations threaten the delicate fabric of coexistence, fanning the flames and endangering the infrastructure created to uphold, promote and protect foundational principles. A single trip to any hospital in Israel – and all the more so in its most diverse capital city of Jerusalem – speaks for itself, revealing the depth and breadth of systematic lies, minimizing the legitimacy of our reality and stripping us all of agency.

On that seventh-floor ward, overwhelmed by emotion at the gentle, compassionate care from an Arab doctor and nurses, ultra-Orthodox Jewish nurses and medical professionals from Russia and Ethiopia, New Jersey and Beit Hanina, my daughters’ eyes welled with grateful tears of joy and sadness, overwhelmed by the power of healing, expressing hope and concern for the opportunities and challenges of working side by side, caring by all, of all, for the benefit of all.

Down the hall, Noam Raz’s father, recovering from surgery, and loving family by his side, was notified of their beloved son’s death. The 47-year-old husband, son and father of six, a veteran officer of the elite police counterterrorism unit, was killed near Jenin in an operation to combat the terror that murdered 19 lives in 45 days. Realizing the danger of mass exposure to germs, he accepted his wife’s thought-out plan and plea to remain in the hospital for the duration of the shiva mourning period.

Our temporary home thus housed a Shiva in which we were frequent drop-ins over the course of the week. As he mourned the loss of his son, he shared the understanding that he, they, did not really know what Noam did – and why his son had requested permission to change his surname to Raz: secret. And that his son, dedicated to his country, people, community and family, was full of endless known and hidden courage, love, modesty and commitment.

AS SHIVA on the seventh floor brought people from all over Israeli society to mourn with a grieving father, hospital staff worked together with military personnel to ensure smooth medical and technical elements during the week. When news came in of medical teams attacked by incited rioters at sister hospital Hadassah Mount Scopus, the ward seemed to grow a little quieter, and a lot kinder.

When on the next day we went to get some air and see the view from the 12th-floor closed balcony, Muslim and Jewish families and individuals continued waiting, eating and praying outside of the ICU, reflecting on the delicate balance created in the miraculous single Jewish nation-state, to which an archetypal indigenous people returned, committed to equality for all.

As for my daughter, the fire and explosion that burnt her and her friend occurred when the two of them and their other girlfriends were on a hike near the Dead Sea. Like many Israelis, they brought with them small pressurized gas canisters to make coffee and shakshuka. When the first gas canister ran out as the shakshuka was still cooking, thinking it was off, the girls punctured the second one, gas leaked and caught a spark.

The rest you can imagine. As a former and perhaps future lawmaker, committed to transparency, responsibility and accountability, what happened requires follow-up into safety protocols and requirements of cheaper-version canisters sold in gas stations and army bases across the country, risking lives and wellbeing.

Hospitals on strike

AS HOSPITAL workers across the country held a 24-hour strike in protest of violence against medical staff, demanding mini police stations in hospitals to prevent the violence they face, the analogy to the gas canister became abundantly clear. It takes one spark to ignite a fire, that even if contained results in injuries and long healing processes.

The stressful situation in such medical settings may explode and lead to complete loss of control. The delicate balance can be disrupted by explosive inculcations of hate and antisemitic incitement – with internal and external, ignorant and intentional fanning of the flames from those that do not accept Israel’s right to exist, within any borders.

Transparency, responsibility and accountability are critical if prospects for peace are to advance. Recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, in accordance with the founding principles anchored in the Declaration of Independence, is a vital first step towards that goal.

In less than a month’s time, the UNHRC will say what it wants about Israel and will surely fail to highlight its diversity, inclusion and coexistence, alongside growing pains of nation-building in a young country born into multi-dimensional conflict. To enable and empower moderates rather than unleash radical voices, it is the responsibility of trustees of international law and human rights to identify, reject and hold to account the council’s malicious lies, peddled to further fuel explosive mutation of anti-Jewish hatred, and instead support the only democracy in the Middle East in sharing best practices learned through shared experiences.

Only together, applying principles and expectations equally and consistently, can we ensure that the power of healing of the hospital becomes the norm, realizing opportunities and growing from challenges, throughout all aspects of life, in Israel and beyond.

The writer is a lawyer, research fellow and policy and strategy adviser on issues of immigration and integration, Israel-Diaspora relations, human rights and the fight against antisemitism. She served as an MK in Israel’s 23rd Knesset.