Little corners of coexistence in Jerusalem

What it all proves is “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

‘RACISM IS not me,’ this image from the Bokra Facebook page promoting coexistence proclaims in Hebrew and Arabic. (photo credit: BOKRA.NET)
‘RACISM IS not me,’ this image from the Bokra Facebook page promoting coexistence proclaims in Hebrew and Arabic.
(photo credit: BOKRA.NET)
On one of the Saturdays in the course of the High Holidays, I ran out of the medication I was taking for an infection, and decided to go to the relatively new branch of the Terem emergency care medical clinic on Sarei Yisrael Street in Jerusalem. Before going to the clinic I called up to ask how long I would have to wait before seeing a doctor and was told: approximately one hour. So I brought a book with me.
When I reached the clinic I discovered that the whole team present – doctors, nurses, lab technicians, receptionist and cleaners, were Palestinian – some Israeli Arabs, and some from East Jerusalem. Most of the patients were young Hassidim (the clinic is within walking distance from the haredi Geula neighborhood): the men with broad-rimmed fur hats, the wives pushing baby carriages. However, I figure that all parts of the Jerusalem population were represented (well, perhaps not Betar Yerushlayim fans...).
What was most surprising was the calm atmosphere, the efficiency of the medical, technical and secretarial team, and the total lack of tension in the air, even though the whole show was run by the Palestinian team. The tests I required were rapidly performed, and within half an hour I was in the doctor’s room, being given a thorough examination. Before I left the clinic with a prescription for antibiotics and reassurances that I was in pretty good shape, I thanked the doctor, and jokingly said to him: “I have one complaint.” “What is it?” he asked, looking rather worried. “I was told that I would have to wait to see you one hour, but in fact waited much less, and barely managed to open my book”.
I would, of course, have been much happier if I hadn’t needed to go to the clinic, but all in all I had a very optimistic and positive experience in coexistence, which to my great surprise didn’t even cost me a single shekel. If I am not mistaken, the various health funds foot the bills of their members. Tourists can pay through their insurance companies back home and people who have no insurance coverage must foot their bills privately. In cooperation with the Health Ministry, Terem offers its services at reduced prices near the Central Bus Station in Tel-Aviv to asylum seekers who have no health insurance.
Terem was founded in Jerusalem in 1989 by Dr. David Applebaum and colleagues, and provides emergency medical service and basic medical courses in various parts of the country. Applebaum, who was the director of the Emergency Ward at the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, was killed in 2003 with his daughter, who was to have been married the following day, in a terrorist attack at the Hillel Coffee Shop in Emek Refaim in Jerusalem. This fact makes the coexistence at the clinic on Sarei Yisrael all the more remarkable.
THE JERUSALEM Botanical Gardens in Givat Ram is another magical corner in our divided and embroiled capital, where coexistence, involving school children, is part of daily life. It is not just coexistence between Jews and Arabs, but also between seculars and religious (both haredi and national religious). True, the activities are not mixed. Each group is provided with separate activities, dovetailed to its special requirements and requests. But the various groups nevertheless coexist, without tension or conflict, to the benefit of all.
What is it that makes both the sort of coexistence which prevails in Terem, and that which prevails in the Botanical Garden possible? I would say that it results, first and foremost, from the fact that neither the government of Israel nor the Jerusalem Municipality are involved. I believe that the coexistence in Terem is the result of both the general dependence in Israel’s medical services and pharmacies on Arab manpower, and the additional dependence on them in Jerusalem as goyim shel Shabbat (Sabbath gentiles). However, there is a difference between just doing something out of sheer necessity and ensuring that the whole system works smoothly with minimal friction. In the Botanical Garden, it is primarily an ideological issue, though economic considerations are not totally absent.
What it all proves is “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” What seems to be missing both in our government and in the Jerusalem Municipality is both the will and the willingness. Our current government seems totally oblivious to the need to try to generate as much coexistence as possible – not just coexistence between Jews and Arabs (which does not seem to be a desired end in too many sectors of our society), but between Right and Left, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, religious and secular. It is as if all the schisms are viewed as zero-sum games, where there must be a winner and loser. But coexistence is not a zero-sum game.
I started off writing another article for my column this week, all about the systematic and deliberate delegitimization of the Left in Israel, which has long departed from the sphere of verbal slights, not least of all from the mouth of the prime minister himself. The delegitimization has reached much more concrete and dangerous levels.
If you want to understand what I am talking about, I recommend that you read the interview in last Friday’s Haaretz supplement with Talia Sasson – a former head of the State Prosecution Criminal Department, author of the 2005 report commissioned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, about the Government’s settlement activities in Judea and Samaria, and who next Sunday will be retiring from her most recent, thankless post as president of the New Israel Fund, which is responsible for financing many marvelous projects in diverse human and social spheres, among both Jews and Palestinians, toward creating the basis for coexistence.
However, after finishing the first draft of my article, I went out for a walk along the new bicycle and pedestrian path being constructed along the Valley of the Cross in Jerusalem – an extremely impressive project that will begin in Malha and end in the Central Bus Station. As usual, my path crossed a large variety of Jerusalemites and tourists on foot and on bicycle and I was suddenly struck by the thought that perhaps I ought not to sink into total pessimism. There is also a lot to be optimistic about – at least for the time being.