Despite the tension and conflict that persists between Israelis and Palestinians, each year, 100,000 Palestinians cross through army checkpoints to be treated in Israeli medical facilities. As they receive medical care that’s far superior to anything available in the Palestinian territories, many of them are interacting with Israelis on a human level, getting to know each other and relating outside of any political context.
That can only be good for fostering understanding, dialogue and better relations between the two peoples, say two proponents of increased dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
Dr. Raphi Walden, a professor at Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Khadra Salami, who specializes in pediatric oncology at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, say that sort of peaceful contact at the personal level can help promote peace at the political level.
At least, that’s the theory and hope that the two have been sharing with audiences in Canada and the United States over the past few weeks.
Walden and Salami were in Toronto recently, as part of a two-week tour designed to drum up support in North America for a venture called Project Rozana.
They addressed a small group of potential supporters gathered at the Munk School of Global Affairs. The event was sponsored by Project Rozana and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
Later, they spoke to doctors from across Toronto at the Hospital for Sick Children.
Project Rozana is named for Rozana Salawhi, a four-year-old Palestinian girl who sustained life-threatening injuries in 2012, when she fell from her family’s ninth-floor apartment near Ramallah. Her mother decided she would get better care at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and brought her to the Israeli hospital.
According to the Project Rozana website, “It became our defining moment – to create and fund opportunities that would reverse the imbalance between the two systems. People of all faiths and political allegiances have embraced Project Rozana.”
Salami said that Palestinian patients and doctors benefit greatly by tapping into Israeli medical expertise. Why not leverage that relationship to build a better future, she asked.
Supporters of Project Rozana can assist by helping finance three elements of the program: treatment, training and transportation, she added.
Mark Anshan, chair of Project Rozana Canada, said the international program was created in 2013 by Australian entrepreneur Ron Finkel. It raises money to train Palestinian doctors and students in Israeli hospitals, which helps boost the capacity of the Palestinian medical establishment, he said.
Other funds go to finance the treatment of Palestinian patients in Israeli hospitals and to transport Palestinian patients into Israel.
The ultimate rationale for Project Rozana is “health for peace,” to build bridges between the peoples through health care, Anshan said.
According to Walden, medical infrastructure, expertise and capacity is lacking in the Palestinian territories, so Palestinians flock to Israel for treatment.
I believe that the majority of people on both sides want to live peacefully.
– Dr. Raphi Walden
That provides “the opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to meet and to break the monolithic image that all Palestinians are terrorists, or that all Israelis are oppressing the Palestinians,” he said.
“I believe that the majority of people on both sides want to live peacefully with a two-state solution in a peaceful relationship.”
As for Salami, the walls and checkpoints imposed by Israel “enlarge the gap” between the peoples. “If you let more and more Palestinians go into Israel and be in contact with the Israeli population, this will make a difference,” she said.
Her own experience travelling through Ben Gurion Airport brought her in contact with an Israeli Jew.
This can change people’s minds, she said, and help them realize that not all Palestinians are bad people or terrorists.