Where Apartheid Disease Dies

Several nights ago, while playing poker with my usual gang of middle aged, rapidly greying and balding fellow gamblers, I received an urgent phone call from a family friend telling me that my wife had been taken by ambulance to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. Not the modern and magnificent new facility in Ein Kerem, but the 76 year old health center in northeast Jerusalem.

For those of you that have no idea that there are two centers that the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization has built for the benefit of providing incomparable health care for ALL the citizens of Israel and, indeed, for many thousands of others from both the Western world and the ARAB countries, allow me to explain,

In 1939, the Hadassah Medical Organization that had been established by Henrietta Szold, z”l, had long been treating the residents of the land of Israel in myriad ways to wipe out local diseases and treat preventive medicine, However, what was needed was a modern hospital facility where both treatment and research could be conducted for the benefit of all.

Until 1948 and Israel’s War of Independence, Hadassah Hospital on Mt Scopus ( in Hebrew, “Har Ha Tzofim”-The Mountain of the Watchmen/Sentinels) was recognized as the most modern facility of its type anywhere in the Middle East. However, since its position was isolated from the larger Jewish populated areas of Jerusalem before the War of Independence, it had become a popular target for local Arab terrorists to snipe at.

Every week, a convoy of supplies and personnel had to be sent up the mount through Arab held territory over a single road. The British occupying authority would clamber aboard the buses and trucks to search for “illegal arms” before permitting the transportation to the hospital. The Hagana, the Jewish self defense force (still an underground unit however, sometimes recognized by the British) was denied permission to accompany the convoy up to the hospital.

On April 13, 1948 a convoy containing 78 doctors, nurses, medical technicians and students was ambushed by Arab brigands who opened fire on the buses. A local British commander saw the attack, knew that the vehicles were carrying unarmed physicians and their wives, and he sought permission from his superiors to intervene and rescue the Hadassah personnel, but was told not to make  any more than a personal attempt to stave off what was to become a horrifying disaster. He did, in fact, get near the bus under fire and tried to approach it , but was halted by the heavy firing. He got close enough to call out to the folks on board to run for their lives, but they believed that they would be rescued. In the end, the Arabs set fire to the bus and all the personnel aboard, including Dr Chaim Yassky, z”l, a world renown cancer specialist, and his wife, were burned alive.

Also, on the same mount, in 1925, the Hebrew University was founded. Its opening ceremony attended by Lord Balfour, Winston Churchill, Chaim Weizmann and Albert Einstein. It was to be the first Hebrew speaking institution of higher learning in the land. Indeed, for many years, thousands of students would attend, including several American veterans of World War Two; some of whom while studying there on the GI Bill, would volunteer for the nascent Israel Defense Forces in 1948.

During the battles for Jerusalem, much of what is today mistakenly labelled as “Arab East Jerusalem” fell to the forces of the Jordanian Arab Legion, except for a small unit of 120 Jewish soldiers holding out on Mount Scopus and protecting the hospital and university grounds. As a result of the armistice of 1949, this enclave was the only Israeli position to survive the Jordanian assault.

Every week, a convoy of replacements and supplies, in covered armored vehicles, under UN protection, would snake its way up the very same route where the previous operation took place. Again, the transports were inspected for “contraband” as according to the armistice, there could be no greater arms or number of personnel that was left on the site at the end of the 1948 hostilities.

The hospital and the university grounds were abandoned but for the Israeli force left there for the 19 years of illegal Jordanian occupation. During the 6 Day War, the area was again attacked by Arab forces and Jordanian artillery and armor, however, Israel had managed to smuggle heavier arms and supplies, in order for the position to hold out in the event of an attack. Mount Scopus was liberated by Israeli forces as was the rest of Jerusalem.

However, during the interim, a new university arose on Givat Ram (Commanders’ Height) and the modern Hadassah Hospital was to be rebuilt in Ein Kerem. The sites of both the original establishments were restored as well, so today, the campus of Hebrew University and the medical facility on Mount Scopus, serve the nation as they did in the past.

Now, why the history. When I arrived at the emergency room (thank G-d my wife is fully recovered) there were patients, nurses and doctors speaking Hebrew, English and Arabic. Indeed, the beds were filled with both Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and “Palestinians” from all over Yehudah, Shomron and even, Gaza. The doctor who treated my wife was an orthodox Jew and the nurse who took my wife’s vital signs, applied the intravenous fluids and made sure she was comfortable was wearing a hijab and spoke English and I heard her speak Arabic to the aide who brought my wife a warm blanket.

There were patients in burkas and children with payot along with men in checkered keffiyahs and black kaftans. I want to ask those who claim that Israeli is an apartheid state if there were black doctors treating white patients in South Africa, the traditional nation of apartheid. How many black nurses were allowed to become phlebotomists so they could place venous and arterial lines into the arms of white patients? Did both white and black patients even share the same waiting rooms in the hospital as Jews and Arabs do today in all Israeli medical facilities? Did blacks in South Africa, as Arabs do in Israel, have medical coverage provided by a system of equal and affordable health maintenance organizations?

I think not. I know not. I know that discrimination by race is evil and I know that apartheid has no place in a building dedicated to eradicating disease, ending pain and suffering and saving people from premature death and life long disability. I have seen this with my own eyes and in the magnificent treatment that my wife received as did the Israeli Arab policeman with whom I spoke during the hours I sat with my wife. I had a pleasant conversation with the “Palestinian” father who was in the next booth with his wife whose daughter had broken her leg in a fall and was getting a cast applied to the broken bone. He heard me speaking English with the nurse and he asked me where I was from and when I said New York, he told me about his uncle who drives a cab there.

Maybe this article isn’t the most politically enlightening, but I hope it proves that the scurrilous and infamous charges of apartheid directed at Israel are totally without merit. I could write on about the Arabs in the Knesset, the judiciary, the civil service, even within the ranks of the IDF, but these facts are often dismissed by the BDS and apartheid defaming zealots. One fact I am sure of that they cannot deny, I  heard that both Jew and Arab have the same cries of pain and the same hope for the swift healing of their loved ones and the same color of their blood.

About the Author
Irwin was born in New York City and is now retired. He lives in Maaleh Adumim since making aliyah 7 years ago.