We all wish for a “Happy New Year”, but what kind of year do we really expect here? Well … it’s going to be a tough one, one can see already, mainly since we are in the midst of an ongoing war with the Palestinians on all fronts. Yet, while the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are suffering under a military rule which limits every aspect of their lives, for me – the privileged Jew on the west side of the dividing barrier – the burden is only a moral one.
But I do enjoy the few hours of a morality break once a week or so. For the past few months, I have been volunteering more intensively with “Road to Recovery”, an NGO led by Yuval Roth, whose volunteers drive Palestinian children from army checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza to hospitals in Israel. Typically, I wake up quite early in the morning (5 AM) and drive for 15 minutes to the checkpoint. It is very close to my home, and yet life on the other side of that checkpoint is so different from mine.
I pick up two or three children, most of whom have cancer but also other major illnesses or disabilities, along with their chaperones, and we go straight to the hospital. There, the children will receive treatment or see a doctor for monitoring the status of their illness. They up much earlier than I did, on the other side of the barrier, as they had to leave enough time for the long, sometimes detailed scrutiny at the checkpoint. While I am waiting for them, hundreds, sometimes thousands, of one-day job seekers are jammed in in close physical proximity around me, and I wonder how tough it is for the three 15-year-old children to make it through the cloud of cigarette smoke generated there, till they reach my car.
In the car, some of the kids just fall asleep; some with eyes wide open “drink” in the views of “the other side”. Some complain and their parent comforts them. Recently, a four-year-old child refused to put on the seatbelt in the child’s seat where my grandchildren usually sit. He was in pain and only wanted to cuddle in his mother’s arms. When he fell asleep, his mother put him into the car seat.
We usually avoid the morning traffic jam and arrive at the hospital early. At the end of the day, another volunteer will take them back to the checkpoint. Then they will still have another 1-3 hours’ travel time back home, passing through one or two more checkpoints. Quite a tough day for a kid with cancer, and, frankly, for the parent, too.
But I am not the only one. More than 1,000 Israeli volunteers are doing this weekly, supported by supported by donations from Jews and Arabs in Israel and abroad which pay for the gasoline. We drive 120 people a day, from 7 different checkpoints along the dividing barrier and from the Gaza checkpoints. In 2017, we drove 1.05 million kilometers. In the summer, “Road to Recovery” sponsors fun-days at the beach for the sick and disabled Palestinian children and their parents, all operated by hundreds of Israeli volunteers. Since Gaza kids have their own sea shore, they receive Children from Gaza are given a respite at the Jordan River Village near Tiberias.
I know this is just a drop in the Mediterranean and in and of itself it’s not going to solve the general problem. However, until the political solution, there is a lot that human beings can do. As we approach the High Holy Days with our annual soul searching, and then the unavoidable conversation with Ribono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe), I believe that at least 1,000 volunteers from “The Road to Recovery” carry a small piece of Tikkun Olam as they approach the Gates to Teshuva.
Kibbutz Maanit, September 2018