Interfaith initiative aims to heal bodies, build peace in Holy Land

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Dr. Raphael Walden, a deputy director of Israel's Sheba Medical Center, left, and Dr. Khadra Salami, a pediatric oncologist at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem, share a laugh during a presentation on Project Rozana held January 26 in Toronto. Photo: Tali Folkins

The Anglican Church of Canada’s global relations director says she’s looking into building closer connections with an interfaith organization that works to increase co-operation in health care between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land.

Andrea Mann said that after hearing a presentation by members of Project Rozana in Toronto January 26, she would like to talk more with members of the group, as well as Archbishop Suheil Dawani, primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and bishop of Jerusalem, about whether some sort of co-operation with Project Rozana might be possible or advisable.

Founded in 2013 by Hadassah Australia (an organization that raises funds for Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem) and Anglican Overseas Aid, the Anglican Church of Australia’s relief and development agency, Project Rozana aims not just to save lives and improve the health of people in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but to help achieve lasting peace in the region, attendees at the presentation heard.

The organization focuses on three areas: financially supporting the training of Palestinian doctors, nurses and other health-care workers; helping pay the costs for Palestinians to receive medical care at Israeli hospitals; and providing transportation to Palestinians from checkpoints along Israel’s border with Gaza and the West Bank to hospitals in Israel. This past summer, the organization also paid for the treatment in an Israeli hospital of Syrian children injured in the civil war, Project Rozana board member Mark Anshan said.

The event featured, in addition to remarks by Project Rozana board members, talks by two doctors who live and work in the region: Dr. Raphael Walden, a deputy director of the Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv and chair of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, another group that works to provide health care in these areas; and Dr. Khadra Salami, a pediatric oncologist at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem.

The assistance to Palestinians is direly needed because of the poor quality of medical services and the widespread poverty in the West Bank and Gaza, Walden said. The need for medical care is particularly strong in Gaza, an “open-air prison,” he said, where hospital shelves are often empty of basic supplies, electricity is typically on for only three to five hours a day and 90% of the water is unfit for drinking.

“The situation in Gaza is catastrophic,” he said. “It is, nowadays, a humanitarian disaster.”

Salami said the biggest challenge in getting Israeli medical care to her fellow Palestinians, especially in emergency cases, is the difficulty involved in getting through the checkpoints that separate Palestinian territories and Israel. She herself, she said, lives in Ramallah, in the West Bank, which would be a 10-to 15-minute drive to her hospital; but because of the checkpoints, the trip takes about an hour and a half. Travel to hospitals in Israel is also difficult because Palestinians, with some exceptions including doctors, are not allowed to drive their cars in Israel, she said.

Walden also acknowledged, in response to a question from an attendee, that Israeli security forces sometimes use the promise of medical care at Israeli hospitals as a way of enticing Palestinians to provide them with intelligence about other Palestinians.

Several people who spoke at the presentation said their biggest hope for Project Rozana would be that it would foster understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.

This is especially important now because, since the construction of the wall between Israel and the West Bank after the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, contacts between Israelis and Palestinians have become more and more rare, Salami said.

“As long as people are away from each other, the gap will be more and more big, and each one will have bad thoughts about the other side,” she said. “So, bringing people together—and this is actually possible through health care—will make people gather and share the same feelings and share the same hope.” By helping Palestinians get medical care at Israeli hospitals, she said, the hope is that they will then go back to their communities with the idea that not all Israelis are bad.

The Rev. Laurette Glasgow, a member of the board of Project Rozana Canada, speaks during a presentation on the organization in Toronto January 26, while Dr. Khadra Salami listens. Photo: Tali Folkins

The group also hopes to have a similar effect on the hearts and minds of Israelis, said Jon Allen, a member of the board of Project Rozana Canada. Its partnership with the Israeli charity Road to Recovery, which provides car rides to Israeli hospitals for Palestinian patients by matching them with Israeli volunteer drivers, for example, aims partly to build bridges between the two peoples.

“The new generation has never met a Palestinian except [Israeli soldiers] at a checkpoint,” he said. “So, these volunteers that are picking people up every day, and taking them to their treatment, and talking to them and having a relationship with them, it’s really going both ways. They’re going back to their kibbutzim (settlements), they’re going back to their towns and they’re saying that all Palestinians also don’t have horns. That’s really what we’re trying to do.”

The Anglican Church of Canada currently has no formal relationship with Project Rozana, although the Rev. Laurette Glasgow, who works as the church’s special advisor for government relations, sits on the board of Project Rozana Canada as a volunteer.

When it comes to funding health care in places like Gaza and the West Bank, Glasgow said, assistance that might seem relatively minor to some can have a huge impact. “Even though a project sounds as though it’s fairly straightforward—like driving people from checkpoints to medical care—it makes a huge difference to the lives of the people,” since the alternative for many Palestinians would be to spend a week’s wages on taxi fare. And a very small amount of extra training provided to Palestinian medical staff could save the lives of children, she said.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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