Two doctors recently completed a North American speaking tour, to build support for Project Rozana, an international organization that works with Israelis and Palestinians to promote peace through health-care initiatives.
Dr. Sagit Arbel-Alon, an Israeli obstetrician and gynecologist, and Dr. Akram Amro, a Palestinian physiotherapist, visited New York, Washington, Ottawa and Toronto. In Ottawa, as part of their tour, the two doctors met with some members of Parliament and attended a reception at the German ambassador’s residence. The CJN caught up with them in Toronto on Nov. 22.
Project Rozana is named after Rozana Salawhi, a four-year-old Palestinian girl who fell from her ninth-floor apartment and sustained life-threatening injuries. Her mother, Palestinian journalist Maysa Abu Ghannam, insisted that she be treated at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, since she trusted it more than the Palestinian health-care services.
Ron Finkel, the president of Hadassah Australia, heard about the story and decided to create Project Rozana to help bridge the divide between Israeli and Palestinian health care. Project Rozana focuses on the “three Ts” of training, transportation and treatment, and Arbel-Alon said that there should be a fourth T, as well – tikun olam.
“I think it is our responsibility to try to change the situation. People sit on their sofa and tell others what to do. We don’t sit, relaxed – we are doing. This is our responsibility to give hope,” she said.
Project Rozana is trying to “change the situation” in a number of ways, both direct and indirect. By training Palestinian doctors, treating Palestinian patients and providing transportation for Palestinians to get to Israeli hospitals, Project Rozana directly improves the lives of Palestinians who otherwise might not be able to access, or afford, the health care they need. But these initiatives also lead to stronger and lasting relationships between individual Palestinians and Israelis.
“When my son goes to the army, after getting to know Palestinian people, when he will find them, they won’t be the enemy. They will be human beings that he has to take care of,” said Arbel-Alon. “Also, the Palestinians don’t see the Israelis only as an enemy or occupier, they see them in much wider views, as well.”
“Treating Palestinian patients, the blood is the same blood, the pain is the same pain, the suffering is the same suffering,” she continued.
Amro added that, “We’d like Israelis to see there are very successful Palestinians – highly educated, intelligent, rich, successful businessmen. Not just bringing them from the dehumanization to human level, but on a successful level.”
The interactions between Israeli and Palestinian doctors facilitated by Project Rozana help with that goal. For example, Amro’s cousin trained with Arbel-Alon at Hadassah hospital, a fact that the two only discovered on the plane ride over from Israel. They sent him a selfie and he responded by saying that he misses Arbel-Alon, whom he hasn’t seen in a few years.
They both pointed to this as an example of the kind of relationships that Project Rozana creates, the kind that will lead to “bottom-up pressure to build much more bridges to peace,” as Arbel-Alon put it. Amro also said that his cousin’s clinic in Hebron is very busy because potential patients are impressed with his Hadassah pedigree.
All kinds of people across the political, religious and racial spectrums support Project Rozana, said Amro. It is not a political organization, but a humanitarian one. When he and Arbel-Alon met MPs in Ottawa, Project Rozana was lauded by those on both the left and the right. But Amro stressed that Project Rozana needs more money to help more people, which is the reason for the speaking tour.
“We appreciate good prayers, but we also hope for more active participation in the project. You can’t come to drive a patient (to his or her appointment), but you can contribute to a patient being driven. You can contribute to more social infrastructure that could promote coexistence and a better future,” he said.
Project Rozana takes donations through its website.