Crossing Religious Lines in an Israeli Hospital (NY) TIMES) By SOUAD MEKHENNET JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/11/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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JERUSALEM — There are no empty beds this day in the recovery room at
the Hadassah-Ein Kerem hospital. Doctors and nurses hover over
patients. Manar Igbarya, 25, is giving a woman an injection and
inspecting a bandage on her right leg. The Orthodox patient is
absorbed in talking to her visiting husband. Everyone is chatting in
Hebrew; nothing in this scene seems unusual, except that Ms. Igbarya
is a Palestinian Muslim.
Muna al-Ayan, 22, who works as a secretary in the same hospital,
wears a hijab; everyone recognizes her as a Muslim. She said it had
been hard for her to find a job in the past because of that, but she
was accepted at the hospital because “all they cared about was how I
do my job.” Every so often, she said, smiling, a patient is surprised
to see a Muslim working here.
Ashgan, 35, who asked not to be identified by her family name, works
in the operating room as a nurse. “We all speak Hebrew, and all we do
here is our job, though we all carry our Palestinian identity inside
us,” she said, looking at the other two women. “No one can forget
While more traditional Palestinian women marry in their early 20s,
the members of this trio are all single. Each of them characterized
the world inside the hospital as very different from that outside its
walls, where Arab and Jewish Israelis live -- at least in some
places -- side by side but barely interact.
“We are a team here, and there is no difference, if one is Jewish or
Muslim or Christian: The task is to help the patients,” Ms. Igbarya
said. Sometimes, she said, she glimpses questions in the eyes of some
Jewish patients if they hear her speaking Arabic to Ms. Ayan or to
There is a tension to Jerusalem even more intense than in other parts
of Israel, in part because the city itself is a key source of
dispute, important as it is to the religion of both Jews and Muslims.
“People in Jerusalem from both sides are very difficult, and there is
a lot of anger,” Ashgan said. “The conflict is influencing all our
lives directly here. We are not living in dreamland.”
Ms. Ayan lives with her parents in a mixed neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Their next-door neighbor is Jewish, and Ms. Ayan said her father used
to be friends with him until the second intifada broke out in
2000. “Then his son started throwing stones at our door, because we
were Muslim,” she said, adding that sometimes opinions vary within
families on either side.
Arabs and Jews work together in other places in Israel, but Hadassah
hospital is one of the few places where they confront the bloody side
of conflict, immediately and together. Both sides admit that this is
In some cases, Muslim nurses treat Israeli soldiers wounded in fights
with Palestinians while their Jewish colleagues also attend to
Palestinians who attacked Jews. “This is a learning process for all
of us,” Ashgan said, “but we treat first the patient, and then maybe
later we hear what the story was.”
It is the hospital’s policy to treat patients equally regardless of
their religious or ethnic background. Founded by Hadassah, the
Women’s Zionist Organization of America , in 1961 in the southwest of
Jerusalem, Hadassah-Ein Kerem is one of the largest medical complexes
in Israel. Another campus, called Hadassah Mount Scopus, was founded
in 1939 in the northeast part of Jerusalem.
The hospital is the scene of interactions hard to experience outside
its walls. Avichayil Hindi, 19, for example, calls herself
an “Orthodox Jewish girl” who grew up in a settlement with no Arabs.
She came to the hospital in September to fulfill her national service
requirement, choosing a social role rather than serving in the
military as most young Israelis do. “I had never been in touch with
Arab people before,” she said. “Before I came here, I thought Arabs
are bad people who only want to attack and kill Jews.”
Since she began working at the hospital, she and Ms. Ayan have become
friends who go for coffee or lunch in the cafeteria together. “I have
learned here that Arabs also have families, and I learned what their
perspective of this conflict is,” Ms. Hindi said.
Even with such insights, there appears to be little common view of
the possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Asked what
they thought, the three Arab women said the only solution would be a
Ms. Hindi, by contrast, said “there is no solution,” and certainly
not one that requires Jews to give up land.
The popular revolts of the Arab Spring, the question of how the world
would react if those revolts reached Palestinian areas, the
uncertainty of the outcome in an ever-more violent Syria, and the
future attitude of Egypt under President Mohamed Morsi all weighed on
Indeed, all four women noted that their contact was possible only
because the hospital’s leadership made it so clear that there was to
be no discrimination among patients or staff. “As long as we keep
politics out of it,” said Ashgan, “all is good.” (Copyright 2012 The
New York Times Company 07/11/12)
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