When Israeli cars become oases of peace

For we are like rail tracks
Never meeting
And if we incline towards each other
The wagons of the heart will overturn.
— Sherko Bekas, Kurdish poet (1940-2013)

Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard. But you need to hear it.

It’s the story of Israeli volunteers who transport Palestinians requiring medical treatment not available in Palestinian hospitals — mostly children with cancer — from crossings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to hospitals in Israel.

Who is behind this effort? The Road to Recovery, an organization whose credo is: “For peace and reconciliation. Humanity before politics.” Their website states, “We believe that our assistance, besides being motivated by compassion, will generate good will, deepen our connection and contribute to peace between our peoples.” The Road to Recovery website is filled with selfies of smiling drivers and their passengers.

My friend, Harry Langbeheim of Rehovot, is one of the volunteer drivers. Every week or so he drives to the crossing between Gaza and Israel to transport a sick Palestinian child to treatment, along with the child’s chaperone (usually a parent or grandparent). The treatment in Israeli hospitals is paid for by the Palestinian Authority, but the cost of transportation is not. The price of a long cab ride is out of reach for most of these families. The Road to Recovery began in 2010 to answer this critical need.

I asked Harry why he became a volunteer driver. “We have to do something, ” he said. “You can show the other side there are people here who want a peaceful solution…we are cousins and we can live together.”

He continued. “When I started volunteering I found out that this hour and a half that I’m driving these passengers — this is the peace that I can do. One and a half hours of peace in my car.”

An oasis of peace for Harry and his passengers. (Harry Langbeheim, reprinted with permission of The Road to Recovery)

Harry has heard many firsthand accounts of life in Gaza from the Hebrew speaking grandparents, who worked in Israel before the Intifada.  They describe the poverty, the lack of electricity, the grind of every day life. But generally the rides take place in companionable quiet, until Harry reaches the destination. Then — a burst of “shukran” and “todah” from the grateful passengers.

For the transportation that The Road to Recovery provides, one could say “dayenu” — it would be enough. But there’s more.

They also assist those with limited means in the acquisition of specialized outpatient medical equipment. Dayenu? There’s more.

They understand that sick children and their families need something joyful, something fun to look forward to. So they organize special retreat days for Palestinian patients and their families in Israeli recreation destinations.

Kids being kids at a Road to Recovery retreat day. (Kfar Nahar Hayarden, reprinted with their permission)

Tragically, even the best Israeli treatment cannot save every child. If a child succumbs to his illness, drivers who transported the child will go to the family’s mourning tent in the West Bank to offer comfort (volunteers are not permitted to enter Gaza).

How does The Road to Recovery measure their success? Like this:

“Since the founding of our organization over 7 years ago, we have brought about an estimated 38,000 person-hours of interaction between Palestinians and Israelis, thereby forging special and personal bonds at unparalleled scale in the context of every-day life. The “Road to Recovery” is as much about the recovery of mutual respect, trust, dialog and friendship among Israelis and Palestinians as it is about individual patients’ physical recovery.”

Despite the violence that Hamas is orchestrating at the Gaza border, the lifesaving transport continues.

Despite the arson kites, the explosives, the attempts to breach the border with murderous intent, the volunteers continue “inclining their track toward the other.” They are able to separate Hamas from the ordinary Gazan dealing with life-threatening illness.

Could you do it? Could I?

Their quiet, anonymous heroism fills me with admiration.

And they remind me that in telling the story of Israel, the most important thing to tell is the story of Israelis. The people characterized as gregarious (or rude), energetic (or pushy), but whose generosity and compassion are boundless.

About the Author
Sally Abrams co-directs the Speakers Bureau of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. She has presented the program “Israel and the Middle East: the Challenge of Peace” at hundreds of churches, schools and civic groups throughout the Twin Cities and beyond. A resident of suburban Minneapolis, Sally speaks fluent Hebrew, is wild about the recipes of Yotam Ottolenghi, the music of Idan Raichel, and is always planning her next trip to Israel. Visit: sallygabrams.com
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