Building better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health


Victor Frankl was stripped of everything he owned when he entered the Auschwitz death camp. The Jewish psychiatrist had spent 30 years researching and writing a book on the meaning of life. The precious manuscript was hidden in the lining of a coat the Nazis confiscated.

Frankl, deeply shocked by the loss of his book, inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had been sent to the gas chamber.

In the pocket of the newly acquired coat, Frankl found a single page torn from a Hebrew prayer book. It contained the words: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Frankel said: “I interpreted this ‘coincidence’ as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper.”

Later, reflecting on his ordeal, Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning…

Nothing in the world would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as that knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.

Judaism bears witness to a dynamic religious story of humankind’s purpose.

Jews make up about 0.2 per cent of the world’s population, yet have survived repeated attempts at their annihilation, the lack of a homeland for 2000 years and widespread savage anti-Semitism.

Without Jewish ideas and ideals, no one would know justice, democracy, faith in one God or hope for a better tomorrow.

There would be no civil rights movements, respect for peace, or refined sense of social responsibility.

A paradox of our time is that we spend more but have less, buy more but enjoy it less, have more medicine but less wellness; we have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values, learned how to make a living but not a life.

We have cleaned up the air but polluted our souls.

There seems to be a lopsidedness and randomness to the distribution of life’s windfalls and pitfalls. Some seem blessed and others cursed and it seems the wrong people often suffer.

Yet the main dangers in this world of inequality seem to be bitterness and apathy. It is bitterness that fuels the terrorists; bitterness that leads to intolerance and social inertia; apathy that destroys dreams.

That’s why I am thankful for the pragmatic dreamers of Hadassah. Hadassah, like World Vision, serves others irrespective of religion, blood, and nationality.

The Hebrew word mishpat – justice – occurs more than 200 times in the Old Testament and Torah. Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably. Again and again, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor—those who have been called “the quartet of the vulnerable.”

This has been Hadassah’s long mission. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we all. That is what it means to “do justice.”

The Jews and Arabs of the West Bank use the same basic spiritual principles from the Torah and the Koran, but interpretations lead to conflict.

The difficulty in interconnectedness is establishing some kind of genuine and lasting brotherhood in a world of religious and cultural pluralism.

What we all need is empathy for ‘the other’. For the broken, the destitute, the ‘unloveable’, the enemy.

Learning to love our ‘enemies’ is simply God’s way of letting us understand better what love really is.

None of us were born to live in fear or to make others live in fear. We were born to make the world a better place, a little more just and caring.

Tim Costello AO, CEO of World Vision Australia