Building better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health


Abu-Dayh in childhood lights a menorah and dresses on Purim

06.02.2019 Updated: 10.02.2019 Neta Ahituv

The winter sun began to appear between the cracks in the gray clouds as the doctors, nurses, stabs and other Israeli volunteers gathered early on Saturday at the gas station near the Al-Walaja checkpoint. They were happy to see each other, hugging each other and thinking about what awaited them that day. Afterwards, they all boarded two full minibuses and made their way to the Ormar house, a Palestinian village in the Hebron governorate, which lies between the settlement of Karmei Tzur and Gush Etzion and has 14,000 residents.

For the past 28 years, PHR-Israel ‘s mobile clinics have been crossing checkpoints, physical and metaphorical, reaching medical days in the West Bank or Gaza, and these days, which are set in advance and distributed among local residents, Medical treatment for its residents. Every week, hundreds of Palestinian patients are examined by Israeli doctors, and on that Saturday, PHR-Israel’s Women’s Medical Clinic, which provides women’s medical services – gynecology, family medicine, psychological and psychiatric counseling and even acupuncture, limitless.

The minibuses arrived at a school building in the town, which had been converted to a medical center that Saturday. The volunteers settled in the various classrooms, which became temporary clinics. In the outer courtyard of the school, a pharmacy was quickly established, where two volunteers served as pharmacists and received from the women prescriptions that the pharmacists had given them only a few moments earlier.

Among the doctors was Dr. Mushira Abu Dia, 40, a senior female physician and the new chairperson of PHR-Israel, the first woman and Arab woman to be appointed to this position, but this is not the only exception in her life. Her brothers volunteered to serve in the IDF, some of them in combat units.

“On Purim we would leave the house dressed up: I was with a Japanese kimono, my sister was a ballet dancer, and my brother disguised himself as a ninja … On our way to school we passed the astonished eyes of our Arab neighbors” 

If this were not enough, four brothers and a sister of Abu Dia converted properly and today are Jews for all intents and purposes, and one brother joined the Jews from Dimona and lived with them until his sudden death in a car accident. Some of the brothers observe Shabbat and kashrut, and the sister also lives in a religiously oriented settlement with her Jewish family. Abu Dia connects life deep within Jewish society, including studies in Jewish schools, and their decision to convert. “When you grow up like that, it affects the elections, even if you belong to another religious ethnic group,” she says. They grew up “like that” because their mother, a woman with great mental strength, who could not read and write herself and who at the age of 16 her parents married her with a man 30 years her senior, was determined to give them the best education possible, and the best possible education was in the schools Jewish communities.

Do not you mind that your brothers chose to convert?

“It’s not easy to sit on the fence all my life, not here or there, knowing you’ll never really belong to any of the groups, I can understand their choice.”

You visit the territories a lot and see the suffering of the Palestinians as a result of the settlements. Is not it difficult for you to visit your sister who lives in the settlement?

“I totally see what the settlements are causing, but is this why I will break up family ties? We come from the same family and it will never change, they bought land there, because it’s much cheaper than anywhere else.” I believe that if she could afford to live in “We do not meet so often, so political debate is the last thing we have time for, and I hope that when we have to talk about it, we can do it in a way that will not undermine our relations.”

What do family gatherings look like? No arguments, quarrels, anger?

“The meetings are calm and pleasant, because we do not talk about religion or politics, we mainly raise stories from the time we were little, recall childhood stories and our mother (who passed away four years ago – NA). Today most of us have time to meet at Passover, and then the family reunion includes “on fire” with one of the nurses who lives in an Arab village, where kosher rolls for Pesach and kosher and halal meat are served.

Do you think of converting to Judaism?

“No, if I had such thoughts, it was hard to always feel on the other side, but as an adult I do not feel the need to convert to be accepted … Today I know that whoever wants to accept me and whoever does not will not accept me even after conversion I do not drink alcohol, I do not eat pork because I’m a vegetarian, and I’ve also fasted in Ramadan, but it’s for tradition, not because of religion … My friends and colleagues never wondered why I did not convert. “He said.

The only time she was asked to explain why she did not convert was when a patient raised the question. “She was pregnant with twins and accompanied her to pregnancy and childbirth, and when she came for a postnatal check, she said, ‘You’re such an amazing doctor, how come you do not convert?’ It took me a moment to sink, but then I put her in her place, because I understood exactly why she was asking this – some of the Jews find it hard to connect between a good doctor and a non-Jewess, the dissonance in her head. Cracked her worldview, did not get along. “To settle the contradiction in her head, I need to convert.”

Pictured below is, Abu Dia with a patient in the village of Beit Ummar. “My Israeli identity was part of me even before the Palestinian identity” (Credit: Meged Gozani)

Abu Dia says that each brother converted to Judaism for his own reasons, some of them in the wake of Jewish spouses. Brother Abu Za’im, 59, relates that he first thought about conversion when he was a BA student in economics and political science at the Hebrew University, but because it requires resources he does not have. A few years later he met an Italian Jewess, who later became his wife and later his ex-wife, and decided to convert to Judaism. At first he studied twice a week in a yeshiva in Jerusalem and continued to study intensively, daily, and did Saturdays in the yeshiva. Finally, when the yeshiva rabbi felt that his knowledge was sufficient, Abu Za’im was required to be questioned by the Rabbinical Court, which ruled: “He can be a Jew.”

Later he went to Italy with his wife and daughter, and after the divorce he moved to Ireland, where he lived in a relationship with a Christian and the two raised a child together. Thus, Abu Zayyim has a connection to all three monotheistic religions. “I present myself as an Israeli-Jew and try not to talk about politics with people who do not know me and my story … If I insist, I say that I was once a Muslim and that I am a leftist when I meet Muslims, I do not feel like I ‘ I see religion as something personal, not political, and conversion was not an act of rebellion against Islam, but an act of reconciliation with the culture I grew up in. When I meet Jews I sometimes feel a sense of exclusion, but I Normal to feel irrelevant. “

To participate in the Memorial Day ceremony

Abu Dia, who was born in the Lod neighborhood of the train station, is her mother’s eldest daughter from her second marriage. Then another brother and sister were born, and the family lived in one room inside the grandparents’ apartment. When Abu-Day was 11 years old, her parents divorced and she moved with her mother and brother to live in Ramle. Her mother began to work as a cleaner in Assaf Harofeh Hospital and thus supported her children. Abu-Dia’s father later remarried and had six more children, so Abu Dia has a brother and sister of the same mother and father and another 14 half brothers.

One of Abu Dia’s significant memories is related to the Memorial Day ceremony at the high school she attended. She asked to take part, but the geography teacher took her for a conversation and wondered if she would have trouble taking part in it. “I did not participate in the end, I appreciate her sensitivity to me,” says Abu-Dia, who describes on the other hand active participation in school Kabbalat Shabbat as a matter of routine. “It’s hard to grow differently, you really want to be like everyone else, and as you get older in high school, the differences are also growing … All the Jews get a first order and talk about the army, .

Her childhood memory became part of the speech she gave on the occasion of her recent Galner Prize for Social Leadership: “On Purim, we would leave home – my brother and sister – all of us dressed up: I wore a Japanese kimono, my sister was a ballet dancer and my brother dressed as a ninja. I felt outsider, both in school and in the neighborhood, as if I did not belong anywhere – or maybe I belonged everywhere? “

One of my meetings with Abu Dia took place immediately after the annual memorial ceremony for the mother of the family ended. The Jewish brothers also came to the memorial service in a Muslim cemetery. They spoke in Hebrew, because it was a language they felt more comfortable with. A Muslim family at a funeral nearby looked at them in amazement. They are used to such looks.

Abu Dia relates that when her older brother was killed, their mother ordered a gravestone for a Jewish gravestone builder, so that the inscription on the tombstone was in Hebrew. “She could not read or write, neither in Hebrew nor in Arabic, maybe because of that she did not care what language it would be written on his grave,” explains Abu Dia. But that the tombstone was smashed by unknown people who did not see the Hebrew inscription in good faith. “It broke her,” she says.

Abu-Dia volunteers at the PHR-Israel’s mobile clinic on Saturdays and at the regular clinic in Jaffa on Fridays The Open Clinic in Jaffa provides medical services to asylum seekers who have no status and who does not have medical insurance On weekdays she works as a senior doctor at Hadassah Ein Kerem, Ami is also working in a high-risk pregnancy clinic at the Clalit Health Services Center in Beit Shemesh, where she deals mainly with ultra-Orthodox women, and two years ago she was appointed chairman of PHR-Israel. Two years ago, she completed her master’s degree in public administration at the school Government of Harvard University. Studies were made possible by a Wexner Israel.

“The association is dear to my heart,” says Abu-Daya, who has been a volunteer for 15 years. “Because of the important medical work done here and also because it’s an island of sanity, free of the bad things that happen around. The amazing people who work at the association prove to me every day that this place can be managed differently. “

Like many human rights organizations, PHR-Israel is also under attack.

“I do not read the comments about PHR-Israel’s Facebook posts, because I learned that people can not separate the political context from the human context and understand that injustice is wrong, even if it becomes what you define as your enemy. I try to reduce stress in my life (laughs).”

Women from the village of Beit Ummar wait at the mobile clinic. “I see in medicine a profession that heals not only an injured body, but also society as a whole”Meged Gozani

“Like my mother, who was a very strong woman, my activism is not expressed in demonstrations, it is expressed in my profession,” she explains. “I see medicine as a profession that not only aids an injured body, but also society as a whole.” Volunteering with the organization allows me to choose political activism, to do things that promote my belief in equality and justice, without leaving any group outside. It’s true that we do not do some heroic medicine on Saturdays, but there is a basic human interaction between people living on both sides of a barricade who are currently unable to communicate. My patients and patients at the Hadassah Center for Sexual Assault Victims also teach me a great deal about resilience and how will power enables victims and victims to regain control of their lives after they have been deprived of them. Helping someone do it is the biggest prize you can get. “

What the doctor does when she is sick

Abu Dia is busy most of her time treating the illnesses of others, but at one of our meetings she surprises herself and tells us that she herself is sick. “I debated whether to tell,” she says. “The people who are close to me know, of course, but I decided that I was ready to go out with it.” Two weeks before I left for studies in the US, I had multiple sclerosis . It started with flashes in the eye, which suddenly appeared in 2007 and made it difficult to see. The ophthalmologist said at first that it was a migraine, and then it was decided that it was an inflammation of the optic nerve. It was a while later, but I had red lights on, because I know this is one of the first signs of multiple sclerosis. After five years the same thing happened and then they thought it was lupus, lupus, an autoimmune disease. In the last attack, before I left for the United States, I had a thorough series of tests, until the diagnosis came – it was multiple sclerosis. “

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, autoimmune, chronic disease that affects the nervous system. Abu Dia says that no one knows what is going to happen to her. “It is possible that I will have a seizure every five years, as it was until now, and it could be worse in the coming years, because it’s not clear I try to do as many things as possible, because I do not know which way it will develop.” One of these things is the realization of an old dream of visiting New Zealand, where she probably would not have gone if she had not found herself sick.

Why did you finally decide to tell about MS?

“This is another message that I want to convey – my self-fulfillment and my work are not determined by my physical condition, and the disease does not determine who I am and what I can do in my life. I thought it might empower other patients. “

Does the fact that you are a doctor, who knows all the existing concepts and knowledge, help or actually make it difficult?

“Knowing this case is both a blessing and a curse, because the disease is not giving physical signals right now, I try not to read too much about it and not to be updated with new treatments. Second, I do see the advantage of being a medical woman, and some tests are more available to me and the doctors are my colleagues, and I understood that I always walked around with a feeling that I would not last long.

In general the very conciliated. You are not angry with the cards that were handed out to you, not even at the Jewish society and the racism you experienced. Is that really it?

I do not want to pay for the stupidity of others in my mental and physical health … It’s true that it’s hard for me that the society here is racist and does not accept difference, but I do not intend to sit idly by and get angry. I do my best to change the situation and it takes the element of anger out of the equation, and as for the cards, how I grew up and who raised me brought me where I am today, so why should not I feel lucky, I see people who grow up with a lot of money and luck, Without values, I would not want to grow like that. “

Multiple sclerosis is considered a stress-related disease and one of the goals in therapy is to reduce stress in life. But just reading your weekly schedule can put a person into stress.

“It’s true that it’s not a part I apply so well, it may be my denial, but on the other hand, it’s a good stress because I really love everything I do – the work and the volunteering and the good things that happen in my personal life.”

The “good things” in her personal life are, among other things, a relatively fresh and happy relationship with Daniel Stambler, a Jew living in Jerusalem, a lecturer in English and Buddhism. She asks not to publish more details because of the sensitivities of the family and promises with a wink that she does not intend to convert for him.

In the thicket of identities and perspective you have today, how do you define yourself?

“I am an Israeli Palestinian, not just a Palestinian and not just an Israeli, but both of them … My Israeli identity was part of me before the Palestinian identity, I care about this place and I choose to be a lover of the place. On the other hand, the people I volunteer with are my colleagues in the hospital and in the clinics, my friends and my family are strong and they carry the possibility of change. Because of them, I refuse to give up. ”