I broke my leg in two places a little more than a week ago in Jerusalem. It was a freak accident, brought on by exhaustion, jet lag, dehydration and, if I am to be honest, a glass of champagne. Fortunately, the accident occurred at the home of close friends, who quickly got me to Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Unfortunately, it was Friday night.
As I waited on a gurney in the hallway for my turn with a doctor, my fears of socialized medicine slowly eased. Things were moving along at a slow but steady pace. I settled in for a long night. If anything, I thought to myself, I’ll learn some new medical words in Hebrew.
As the night dragged on, with the help of X-rays and other tests, I came to terms with the fact that I would need surgery back in the United States. But what I was slower to comprehend: five out of my six doctors were Arab Israelis. And they were fabulous.
Arab-Israeli doctors excel in medical care, defying misconceptions
My American orthopedist later told me that they set my leg perfectly, and even took the extra step of cracking my newly dried cast to allow for pressure to release on my flight home. They gave the right amount of anticoagulant injections to keep me safe from blood clots until I got back to Washington, DC. And they perfectly explained all the steps that would soon follow.
As I lay on my gurney, I watched as they juggled calls from multiple cellphones and landlines from other offices in the hospital, as well as incoming ambulances. From my vantage point, as the city of Jerusalem shut down for Shabbat for a full 25 hours, these medical professionals were keeping the eternal capital of the Jewish people in good health. And they weren’t even Jewish.
The notion that Arab Israelis are a “fifth column” is something I will never tolerate hearing or reading again. It’s a somewhat common refrain among the Israeli Right. Not only is it wrong. It’s insulting. The Israeli Arab community is diverse and complex. Simplistic generalizations are dangerous and misleading.
Arab-Israelis play integral roles in Israeli society
The charge that Israel is an “apartheid state” is similarly outrageous. Arab Israelis are fulfilling key functions of Israeli society. The medical profession is just one of many. They are Knesset members, judges, policemen and more. And this should be a point of pride for Israelis of all stripes.
It is not an exaggeration to say that I pondered the Israeli Arab question (a topic I studied as a graduate student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the late 1990s) for several hours laying on my back, as I awaited my release.
The good news came at four in the morning. I was exhausted and relieved. A nurse located a wheelchair and started pushing me to the exit.
Desperate for mobility in Jerusalem's 'Shut-Down nation'
“Where can I pick up my crutches?” I asked her, using a new word that had I looked up on my phone, to the consternation of my Orthodox gurney neighbors.
“There are no crutches,” she said.
“What do I do?” I asked.
“Have your friend take care of you,” she said.
“But I am staying at a hotel and I need to fly home tomorrow,” I pleaded. “What can I pay you to get me crutches?”
“I don’t want your money. Nobody does. You can get them at Yad Sarah [Israel’s Salvation Army] on Sunday,” she told me.
My blood began to boil. I would not leave the hospital with the ability to be independently mobile. The Start-Up Nation is “Shut-Down Nation” on Saturdays, especially in Jerusalem.
An Arab-Israeli man rushed to rescue me with crutches
My friend (whom I owe big time) drove me to my hotel, where thankfully the staff was ready with another wheelchair. They took me to my room and I promptly passed out.
When I woke up a few hours later, with warm Jerusalem sunbeams streaming across my bed, I was struck with sheer panic. How would I be able to get home without crutches?
I called down to the concierge, who promised to start calling around. I checked back an hour later. No luck.
That’s when it dawned on me to call an Israeli Arab friend in the eastern part of town. I told him my predicament. He grasped it immediately. “Give me 10 minutes,” he said and hung up.
Less than 10 minutes later, a WhatsApp text appeared: “We located some crutches in Ramallah.”
What happened after that was not entirely clear, but a man named Ahmad went to a pharmacy in Ramallah and purchased crutches for me. From there, he drove them to Jerusalem. It’s a 21-km. (13-mile) drive. Ahmad made it in about two hours. I’m assuming checkpoints were involved.
A simple act of kindness challenged my assumptions on the Middle East conflict
When the concierge brought up my crutches, I insisted that I hobble down, thank, and pay Ahmad myself. He was remarkably nonchalant about the entire thing. But those crutches may have been the most meaningful purchase I have made in Israel over the 38 years I have traveled there. And it was not an Israeli purchase.
I crutched onto the plane that night and felt immense relief when I found my seat. It would still be another week before my operation in Washington. But it was the end of the beginning. And I knew that I would not have gotten there without the help of Israel’s Arab community, or Ahmad from Ramallah.
One day after my operation, with my leg elevated and my laptop precariously balanced on it, I wondered whether writing this essay meant that I was less of a Middle East security hawk. I certainly don’t have any less disdain for Hamas or other Palestinian groups that seek Israel’s destruction. Nor do I have much patience for those who promote the delegitimization of the Jewish state.
After this ordeal, however, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the contribution of Arabs in Israel. And while the kindness of one stranger from the West Bank doesn’t change the immense challenges associated with the two-state solution, it certainly feels like the right time to question at least some of my long-held assumptions about this complex corner of the world.
The writer is senior vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.