What peace might look like: Seamless Arab-Jewish cooperation at Rambam

When I walk around Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, I cannot help but notice Arabs, Druze, Haredim and other minorities at every level of social interaction. But when I mention this to Israeli friends and colleagues at Rambam, they reply, “What’s the big deal?”

Israeli hospitals are truly the melting pot of Israeli society. Health care is provided to every citizen and legal resident in Israel, notwithstanding ethnicity, religion or income. Because Rambam Medical Center is located in the northern part of Israel, where some 40 percent of the population is not Jewish, it naturally reflects the demographics of Haifa and the Galilee.

In the playroom of the Rappaport Children’s Hospital, Arab and Haredi toddlers romp together on the floor, their parents, dressed in their respective traditional garb, enjoying the moment.

In the Intensive Care Unit, an Arab nurse tends to the wounds of a young Jewish patient injured in an automobile accident. Nearly 40 percent of nursing school graduates in Israel are Arab.

In the operating room, two surgeons – an Arab and a Jew – work together to save the life of a patient suffering from severe cardiac disease.

Throughout the campus, Moslems, Christians, Jews, Bahaiis, Circassians and others go about their business, either receiving or administering treatment. It is seamless.

One reason so many Arabs choose a career in medicine in Israel is that it is an egalitarian system. “We don’t see ‘Arab’ or ‘Jew’ when it comes to promotion or specialized tasks. We only see the most qualified person for the position,” says Prof. Rafi Beyar, CEO of Rambam Hospital.

Many of the top physicians and medical staff at Rambam are Arab. Dr. Aziz Darawsha heads the Department of Emergency Medicine, the largest trauma center in northern Israel, seeing thousands of patients a year, many of them IDF soldiers injured in battle or training. Dr. Suheir Assady, Director of the Nephrology Department, is the first Israeli Moslem woman to head a major medical department in Israel. Dr Mogher Khamaisi is Director of the Department of Internal Medicine “D” and a prominent researcher.

There are always Palestinian patients at Rambam – children needing reconstructive surgery, adults suffering from cardio-pulmonary diseases and needing special treatment, and many others. Just months ago, a senior Palestinian official, upon receiving life-saving treatment at Rambam, made a generous donation to be used for children’s needs in the Joseph Fishman Oncology Center. “At Rambam, I saw a medical center that treats all its patients – Jewish, Arab, Palestinian, and from other countries – the same way and with the best care available,” observed the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous. He asked that his donation be used as “medicine for peace.”

Finally, over the course of the Syrian civil war, many seriously wounded civilians quietly have been brought across the border to Rambam for intensive treatment and rehabilitation. “It is our responsibility to provide the best medical care to whoever enters our campus, notwithstanding where they come from,” adds Prof. Beyar. “Our only enemy here is disease, injury and death.”

Israel still may be a long way from formal peace in the Middle East. But if there is a model as to what peace, cooperation and coexistence looks like, you need only visit the Rambam campus in Haifa. I sincerely hope that you will.

Rick Hirschhaut is National Executive Director of the American Friends of the Rambam Medical Center (AFORAM).

About the Author
Rick Hirschhaut has served as a Jewish communal professional for over three decades. He has held senior leadership positions with the Anti-Defamation League, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and American Friends of Rambam Medical Center. He is also an Emmy Award winning co-producer of the nationally broadcast documentary, Skokie: Invaded but Not Conquered.