Building better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health


It seems incongruous that the leadership in Gaza – principally the men who run Hamas – would allow, even encourage their citizens to visit an Israeli healthcare centre. And in recent years this has even  included close relatives of Ismail Haniyeh and Abu Marzouk.

Ismail Haniyeh and Abu Marzouk are two of the most senior members of the militant organisation and both on Israel’s ‘most wanted’ list.

Out of the public gaze, however, thousands of Gazans each year travel to hospitals in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere for life-saving treatment. Many of them take advantage of services offered by our partner organisations, such as the volunteer-based Road to Recovery which facilitates the transfer of patients from Gaza and the West Bank to Israeli hospitals at no charge.

When questioned about the apparent contradiction, Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas official, said: “If you are on the verge of death, and your enemy is the only one to treat you, of course you will resort to him.”

What he didn’t say is that the quality of healthcare in Israel is far superior to that of the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt or anywhere else in the region. In many cases that care requires highly complex treatment, in which Israel excels. According to the World Health Organization, 3,840 Gazans attended hospitals in Israel in 2013, mainly for cancer treatment, paediatric care and ophthalmology. In almost every case, the treatment regime was complex and costly.


Medical care notwithstanding, there is another benefit for Israel when Gazans are exposed to the ‘Zionist enemy’. They see something very different from what they’re told by the highly-controlled and selective media in Gaza and, indeed, by hostile media in many parts of the world. It may not change what people hear in Gaza, but it does influence what they know and if it raises questions, then that is a positive development.

Of course, Gazans don’t have to negotiate checkpoints to see what Israel can offer them. Very close to home is a Cystic Fibrosis clinic at the Al-Durrah Children’s Hospital in Gaza City, which was set up by Prof Eitan Kerem, the Head of Pediatrics at Hadassah Hospital. Prof Kerem is a board member of the Rozana Foundation and one of the world’s foremost authorities on Cystic Fibrosis.

The story about how the first intake of medical staff from Gaza who trained in Israel before returning to run the clinic, would make a great Hollywood movie. There are certainly parallels with The Band’s Visit, a 2007 award-winning Israeli film that touched on issues of misunderstanding and cooperation between Israelis and Egyptians, in which no protagonist is considered superior to any other.

This visit and the training that followed, happened in 2010 but was kept ‘under the radar’ due to sensitivities on both sides. One of Prof Kerem’s great regrets is that he didn’t have a camera to witness the day the Palestinians arrived in Israel. “All they knew about Israel is that we liked killing innocent women and children. Suddenly they walk into Hadassah and see that half our patients are Palestinians. They were in complete shock.”

This is one story about cooperation; there are hundreds more happening every day. While some are equally ground-breaking, mostly they’re small but significant acts where the needs of people in care or learning to provide it are ascendant.

Project Rozana was never established as a construct of the Israeli Government or any of its agencies, nor was its purpose to make the country look good. It continues a tradition that is embedded in Jewish philosophical thought and which has since become part of the Israeli narrative. Against the backdrop of patient-centred care that is blind to anything other than excellence in healthcare for everyone, Project Rozana highlights Israel’s advancement in medical science and treatment and actively campaigns to widen its reach to the Palestinian people.

Michael Krape