How Israeli doctors collaborated to treat a Palestinian patient with heart problems


In the ongoing war between Israelis and Palestinians, we are divided by almost everything, but we are now united by something more important than almost anything: a love of life and the connections that count most.

It began immediately after the second consecutive devastating terrorist incident in the Jerusalem area in early February.

The first one claimed seven lives and happened in front of a synagogue in Neveh Ya’acov. Days later, a second Palestinian terrorist killed three more Israelis, including two young boys, ages 6 and 8, in a car-ramming incident in Jerusalem’s Ramot district.

Israelis were feeling defenceless, outraged, and scared of a new intifada when all of this was happening, but the judicial reform protests were already underway, and the country’s divides were growing more pronounced with each passing week.

There was something about the headlines that didn’t appear anywhere else. Only the teachers were aware of it. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, think of it as a gaping hole that allows a glimmer of light to shine through, illuminating the idea that everything is not lost—in the world, the nation, and with ourselves.

The Mohammed Incident, to be precise.

Mohammed (not his real name), a 36-year-old married father of two, travels daily via Area C from his home in a Palestinian hamlet close to Abu Dis to his employment in a nearby settlement.

In contrast, he takes satisfaction in creating pastries with delicate, flaky dough that commuters love when they stop for gas at the filling station attached to his bakery. He claims that the burekas in Israeli bakeries and cafes are too heavy.

Mahmoud is a member of a group of Palestinian friends who get together once a month for coffee (and burekas) with a group of Israelis from Ma’aleh Adumim. Mahmoud is mild-mannered, has a quiet voice, and a baby face.

One of them is me. We discuss family, holidays, marital traditions, and prayers with an emphasis on what unites us rather than what divides us.

It turns out that there are many things that unite us, including our desire to give our children a happy and safe life as well as our shared understanding that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will ever be able to establish a lasting peace.

Also, there are health concerns.

Mohammed visited his neighbourhood doctor about a year ago when he started having exhaustion and chest symptoms. The doctor then sent Mohammed to a hospital in Ramallah for a series of tests, including an Electrocardiogram. An procedure was necessary because the diagnosis of an abnormal heartbeat.

There are, of course, disagreements between Israelis and Palestinians in addition to those concerns that can bring them together. One is the lucky national health service that practically all Israelis have access to. Unlike Palestinians, though. The procedure Mohammed’s Palestinian health service recommended would run him about NIS 60,000.

No matter how nice his burekas are, the typical Palestinian labourer doesn’t have access to that type of money. Mohammed decided against having the surgery and during the following months, his fatigue and lethargy worsened.

I had a thought during our most recent meeting. Mohammed was informed of it, and I cautioned him against getting his hopes up.

I contacted Judy Siegel, the seasoned health writer for The Jerusalem Post, who has a big black book of medical specialists in every field across the nation, for a few email addresses and phone numbers without any expectations of even receiving a response.

I immediately got in touch with Prof. Offer Amir, the head of the Heart Institute at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. In my email, I described Mohammed’s circumstances, included a list of all the pertinent tests he had already completed, and enquired as to whether there was any system in place that could assist him despite the fact that he was neither an Israeli citizen nor a subscriber to an Israeli health fund.

I was astonished to hear back from Amir within a day. He wrote, “I reviewed the tests and believe he needs one more test to be completed. I requested a waiver of the incurred expenditures from the management of Hadassah and the supplier of the necessary equipment after speaking with Prof. Luria, the unit’s director.

It hasn’t been easy, but there’s a chance that this will work out, Amir said in a subsequent message less than a week later. We’ll welcome Mohammed to come in for the test if you send me his phone number.

The following Sunday, Mohammed showed up to Hadassah bright and early and, with the assistance of Amir’s team, through all the formalities we’re all accustomed to. Later that day, they conducted a test that supported their initial assessment that he required surgery.

The hospital didn’t think twice before admitting him, and the surgery was performed the next morning. Later that day, Amir wrote: “A very complex ablation (almost four hours), but a very successful one, done brilliantly by Prof. Luria.

Mohammed was freed the following morning and recovered at home for a week. He then returned to his job.

TWO groups of individuals will be unhappy about the Mohammed Incident. One group is those who believe that because of Israel’s “occupation,” Palestinians, like Mahmoud, are forced to depend entirely on the kindness of others in order to receive the care and treatment that is a basic right for every Israeli citizen.

The second group is made up of those who object to the thought that Israel’s best would treat a Palestinian – a non-citizen of Israel – with red carpet pro gratis care while hospitals are grumbling about budgets, a lack of physicians, etc. Let’s start by addressing the sorrow and agony of our fellow Jews.

However, there is a third group in Palestinian culture that would perceive Mohammed as “collaborating” with the Zionist enemy, which is why we are not using his true name.

That’s a lot of people who would disregard Mohammed’s heart health in favour of ideology. Is it surprising that humans are unquestionably a doomed species?

All sides may have solid arguments, but they are each viewing the problem from a distinct perspective. These perspectives have been clouded by the century-long conflict over this territory, which has rendered many of us unable or unwilling to see the bigger picture.

I chose to share the Mohammed story not to brag about myself or how compassionate the medical staff at Hadassah is, but to bring attention to the fact that our acts (and inactions) can have unexpected consequences.

I occasionally feel conflicted about our interfaith organisation and wonder if it actually accomplishes anything positive. If the conflict outside is still ongoing and genuine, what difference does it make if we can gather, share a meal, laugh together, and get to know one another better? But compared to the torrent of tears shed by the families of those who lost loved ones in Neve Yaakov and Ramot, it is a mere drop of water.

Is there any possibility that an Israeli endeavour to provide a Palestinian guy a new start in life can compare to the horror of those tragedies? The likelihood of success is low, but it doesn’t imply no effort should be made.

Mohammed seemed upbeat and cheerful when I visited the bakery last week. Although he was still experiencing some post-operative side effects, he was in good health and was ebullient and appreciative of the good fortune that had been bestowed upon him.

I gently declined his offer of a couple burekas on the house.

A lot of cholesterol. I must keep an eye out for this, I murmured as I patted my chest.

We left ways with a hug and moved on with our lives. We were two neighbours who would have never met had we not both chosen to participate in an organisation that aimed to promote communication and familiarity. Of the tens of thousands of decisions we make each week, most of which are unimportant, this one had a profound impact on our lives.

In the ongoing war between Israelis and Palestinians, we are divided by almost everything, but we are now united by something more important than almost anything: a love of life and the connections that count most.

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