Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem (courtesy Barbara Sofer)

If you want to experience the real Israel, go to the hospital. It’s where you’ll meet all kinds of Israelis, and hear all kinds of Hebrew. But you’ll also hear lots and lots of Arabic, and see and interact with lots of Arab people.
Now it’s easy to stay in an Anglo bubble in Israel. You do it by living in neighborhoods that are mostly inhabited by those from English-speaking countries. Lots of people do it, including this writer. It makes it so much easier to be with people who have the same Western mindset. Living in the bubble also translates to local stores that cater to you and carry the products you remember from the Old Country. Things like Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and real maple syrup. If you like those sorts of things.
Live here long enough, however, and you’ll God forbid be forced to seek medical care. That means stepping outside that comfortable bubble and getting along with others. And since Israel is a melting pot, “others” means people from Russia, Ethiopia, Argentina, Morocco, Yemen, France, and so many other countries.

Not everyone speaks the universal language of English, of course, and not everyone speaks Hebrew, if it comes right down to it. As a result, just about everyone speaks sign language. Not the official kind of sign language for the deaf community, but the kind of sign language people resort to in the desperation of needing to be understood where there is no common language.

Hadassah ICU June 27, 2018 (courtesy Barbara Sofer)
The real shock for the uninitiated, however, is that Israeli hospitals are full of Arabs. I can’t give you the breakdown for the percent of Arabs treated in Israeli hospitals. According to Elder of Ziyon, however, over 100,000 Palestinian Authority Arabs were treated in Israeli hospitals in 2015. The non-Israeli patient load at Safra Children’s Hospital of Tel HaShomer Sheba’s pediatric oncology ward is at times 75% of the total ward population, while Ichilov Hospital’s pediatric oncology ward patients are 90% non-Israeli, meaning the patients are largely foreigners and PA residents.
All this is just the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t even looked at the breakdown for Gazan and Syrian patients treated in Israeli hospitals. But as someone who has had to spend lots of time in hospitals and clinics of late, it looks as though at least a third of the patients are Arabs. Moreover, much of the staff is of Arab lineage.
My Jewish doctor, who is head of his department, took a short research sabbatical and left me in the care of his Arab colleague. I asked the (Jewish) physiotherapist at my HMO to recommend an orthopedist and she gave me the names of three Arab doctors. The CT unit at a Jerusalem hospital where I received care is staffed by excellent Arab RNBAs who took efficient and tender care of me while trading friendly banter with me, my husband, and other staff members. 

Hadassah coexistence (courtesy Barbara Sofer)
The Russian nurse couldn’t manage to insert my IV line, but Mahmoud had no difficulty—got it in on the first pass. Later on, Tariq showed Bilal how to measure and mark me for my procedure, all in Arabic. But it’s not just the staff. It’s also ordinary Arab people interacting with ordinary Israelis. Lying on a gurney outside the x-ray room, I didn’t have the strength to call out when a technician announced my turn. The Arab family near me drew his attention to me.
It was just a normal human kindness. An everyday sort of thing. Even as Gaza sends another 13 projectiles our way. Even as five arson terror fires rage throughout Southern Israel. And even as we see photos like this one of an incendiary kite landing on an ordinary Israeli home—a kite sent by Gazan Arabs to hurt Israeli citizens and inflict maximum damage in Netivot, the city where my small grandchildren live.

But the coexistence in Israeli hospitals? That is the real coexistence. The kind you see every day in Israeli clinics and hospitals.
How real is it? The kindness, the coexistence? Are these interactions on the surface only, a form of Taqiya, a display of Muslim sophistry as Southern Israel burns? 
I don’t know. But I know the phenomenon is growing and I know that there’s nothing of the sort going on in Arab countries or even in the Palestinian Authority areas or in Gaza. No Jews lying on gurneys in their hospitals. No Jewish technicians working side by side with Arabs.

That makes the coexistence in Israeli hospitals something to note.
It's more than that. The phenomenon has spread beyond hospitals, becoming part of the fabric of Israeli life. Israelis and Arabs interact more each year. In stores, buses, and yes, in hospitals, too. In fact, everywhere. There’s the professional coexistence of colleagues, and the casual coexistence of helping people find an item on a supermarket shelf.

It’s just the way it is. And so I look around me in the hospital and murmur quietly to my husband, “Apartheid,” and he laughs. Because it so obviously is not anything of the sort.




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