Israelis who advocate for a more equal society and better relations between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens often point to Israel’s health system as a model of how things should work.
Arabs make up only a fifth of Israel’s population, but represent half the country’s pharmacists, a quarter of its nurses and just under a fifth of its doctors. Arab doctors lead departments in some of the country’s top hospitals, and nurses and other health care providers play key roles in the Israel’s health delivery system. Several of the experts frequently cited during the current pandemic are Israeli Arabs, including a leading virologist.
When you visit an Israeli hospital you see a micro-society of dedicated staff working together without regard to ethnic group or religious beliefs. And you see a patient population that reflects the broad diversity of Israel’s population: Arab and Jew, black and white, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, religious and non-religious.
It’s a potpourri of the sick and injured. There have been times when a terrorist has received treatment in the room next to or on the same floor as a victim of terror.
This “we don’t care who you are, we’re going to take care of you” extends to our Palestinian neighbors, despite ongoing tension, violence, and terror. For years, as Hamas, which controls Gaza, digs tunnels meant to be used to infiltrate and to inflict violence, as they shoot missiles at Israel’s civilian communities, and as they call for our destruction, Gazans cross the border and are driven to Israeli hospitals for care. Many who have received Israeli health care would have died without it. Some come regularly for ongoing treatment for an illness or condition.
Gazans coming for treatment must go through a border checkpoint. The check can be intrusive, uncomfortable, and lengthy. There have been incidents when the delay caused someone to get worse or die or for a pregnant woman not to get the immediate care she needed. Israel takes a P.R. beating when that happens.
But there have been occasions when a supposedly ill person is carrying a knife or when a pregnant woman has a bomb buried underneath her clothing. Then there was the time a Palestinian woman was filmed telling a doctor that she was grateful that Israelis had saved her baby son and that she would be proud if he were to grow up to be a “martyr” as a suicide bomber. Go figure.
The Hamas authorities often frown on Gazans going to the “Zionist entity” or the “Occupation” for treatment. It signifies a recognition that Israel exists, that Israel is advanced and has something positive to offer, and that Israelis are human beings, not the monster-like, evil land-usurper the Hamas leadership peddles. So the leadership often pressures to Gazans not to go to Israel for treatment.
Yet, while pressuring everyday Gazans not to take advantage of Israeli expertise to save their lives and the lives of their children, or to just to ease some pain, these same leaders take full advantage of Israeli health care. The hypocrisy knows no bounds. And it produces some real absurdities.
Just weeks after a brutal war in the summer of 2014, former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s daughter was treated in Israel after a botched surgery in Gaza. It probably didn’t feel strange to the family at all. After all, the family could qualify for frequent user points. The granddaughter and and mother-in-law of Haniyeh also received critical care within the same year.
All of this while the Prime Minister constantly called for the destruction of “the Zionist entity,” ranted and raved about its evil nature, and undoubtedly approved terrorist plots against its civilians. Hard to fathom. Haniyeh’s family’s experience is not a one-off. Other Hamas leaders’ families have also been treated in Israeli hospitals.
Until recently the situation for Palestinians living on the West Bank under control of the Palestinian Authority was a bit more “normal.” Coming to Israel for needed health care was not necessarily bragged about, but it was fairly well accepted and normal. Health care professionals often consulted and collaborated. There was an arrangement, sometimes followed, sometimes not, for the Palestinian Authority to pay for the care.
Unfortunately, in the seemingly never-ending line of decisions to shoot the Palestinian people and their aspirations in the foot, the 85 year-old President Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 16th year of his four year term, responded to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s annexation proposal (now off the table), by terminating all agreements to coordinate with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority no longer coordinates with Israel on obtaining permits West Bank residents need to travel to Israel for health care. West Bank health care providers are not supposed to be coordinating with their Israeli counterparts. For a short while, Palestinians in desperate need of care were not able to cross the border to get it.
Fortunately, Israel and the UN have done a work-around to bypass the Palestinian Authority. It is not an optimum solution, and it may not work forever. Moreover, in the non-democratic world that is the Palestinian Authority, knowing that officialdom frowns on your conduct because it contributes to that evil called “normalization” may very well dissuade some people from getting the help they need.
And, yet, in what can only be labeled the height of irony and hypocrisy, even bizarre, Saeb Erekat, the PLO Secretary-General, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator for decades, a top aide to and major influence on Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, was recently brought to Israel for treatment for a very severe, life-threatening case of the coronavirus. He is now getting world-class care at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital.
Erekat’s condition appears to be dire. And his treatment is particularly challenging because Erekat, who suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, received a new lung in Virginia in 2017.
There is deep, if not particularly sweet, irony here. There is probably no ostensible advocate of the two-state solution who has done more to defeat it than Saeb Erekat. He regularly denigrates, deligimizes, and defames Israel. His opinions about the U.S. are not exactly flattering either.
David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel, recently recounted many of Erekat’s words and deeds that have poisoned the well and stymied progress, perhaps forever. Two that he does not mention:
1) As told by former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross in his book, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace, there were times during the 2000 Camp David negotiations when Arafat appeared ready to make a crucial concession, only to be dissuaded by Erekat. 2) Erekat is a principle architect of the “Pay for Slay” scheme whereby terrorists or their families are paid salaries after having killed or maimed Israelis.
Erekat could have chosen to be treated in the Gulf States whose medical care, if CNN International, based in Abu Dhabi, is to believed, has world-class, state-of-the-art medical treatment. Or, he could have been treated in any top-notch hospital in Europe, where the Palestinian cause is sacrosanct and Palestinian leaders are heralded as great statesmen.
And, yet, for life-saving operations, the Secretary-General has chosen one country that he often finds despicable and one country whose legitimacy he questions and undermines with great determination.
Additional irony worth noting:
When Israeli ambulance and paramedics went to pick Erekat up at his home in Jericho, they were escorted by an Israeli military contingent. This is to be expected because when Israeli personnel enter Palestinian territory, even for the purpose of aiding Palestinians with medical care and electricity or water, they are often met with rocks or other dangerous behavior.
The announcement of Erekat’s transfer to Hadassah Hospital did not refer to Israel. Rather, the nation he was coming to as his last hope for life was called “the 1948 territories.”
Clearly, Israel does not expect to feel any love from Mr. Erekat in exchange for the care and attention he is receiving. Why do it?
Indeed, there are some who think Israel is a freier, a sucker, just about the worst insult in the Israeli psyche. Nevertheless, Erekat will get the best care Israeli doctors and nurses can deliver, as will every other Palestinian who is able to come.
Some of the reason undoubtedly lies with the basic nature of the people who go into medicine, with the ethos of the medical profession generally, and with the dedication imbued by Israeli medical personnel during their training.
But I think some of it goes even deeper. I think it goes back to this in Deuteronomy 30:19:
“I call heaven and earth to witness you today: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse — therefore choose life!”
If Mr. Erekat ever wonders why it is that Israel is willing to try to save his life, someone should give him that excerpt from the Torah. But they should also give him the next verse, which concludes with these words:
“For that is your life and the length of your days, to dwell on the land which the Lord swore to your forefathers to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob to give to them.”
Hopefully he’ll understand how deeply both verses resonate in the soul of the people trying to give him breath.