Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Kiwi's View of Israel

I received the letter below from a visitor to Israel from New Zealand. Once again it shows that when people do make the effort to visit and see life as it really is through their eyes, suddenly the polemic outbursts of those with anti Israel opinions, usually not based on facts, I have to say, show Israel in a totally different light.

Dorothy Finlay lives in Tauranga writes;

I have spent nearly 35 years of my life in the Middle East. As a Christian with close friends among Arabs and Jews, I am literate in Arabic and can communicate in Hebrew. I have nursed in the Christian Arab sector of the Old city, in St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem, and Nasir Eye Hospital in Gaza in 1999. I have also worked in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and taught in the Arab Bethlehem University. I recently returned from Jerusalem, where I was part of an expat team helping Arab children with congenital heart disease who receive life-saving surgery from Israeli paediatric cardiac surgeons.

I know how issues related to Israel are always inflammatory to those who have prejudice — both religious and political. I have even seen charges of Israel's ‘oppression’ of Arabs and ‘apartheid’. I can say, on the basis of my own experience and that of others, that such charges have no basis in fact.

Following is an account of a typical day (January 20, 2009) during my most recent stay. What I saw, on this day — and all other days — was quite the opposite of ‘oppression’ and ‘apartheid’.

Today is another busy day for the team from Shevet Achim, an NGO that coordinates care for children from Iraq, Gaza, and the West Bank who need urgent heart surgery in Israeli hospitals.

As I walk through the corridors of Wolfson Children's Hospital near Tel Aviv, I see nearly as many Arab children with their mothers as Israelis. You could see they are all good friends, sharing concerns for their children. Hebrew, English and Arabic languages are interwoven in the hum everywhere as parents discuss their children with no thought of their origins.

Wahaj was first into the theatre for repair of a critical congenital heart condition. This bouncy two-year-old and his mother had travelled from northern Iraq to Jerusalem and had been waiting for a week for the ‘big day’. Now it is history and soon he will be able to return home with a new heart and future.

Havan, a very small 11-month-old from Iraq, is scheduled today for heart catheterisation. This little boy, who nearly succumbed to pneumonia en route through Jordan, now has a perpetual smile.

Today six children from Gaza with serious heart problems are being transported from the Erez Israel/Gaza crossing to Israeli hospitals for assessments, examinations and surgery. Last week there were ten such children in one day. Palestinian doctors, who depend on Israeli hospitals to treat these children, referred them to Dr Tamir, head of the Israeli NGO ‘Save a Child's Heart’ (SACH). Israeli surgeons with SACH provide the high tech surgery at no charge to the children.

Last night I accompanied a little six year old boy, Hizam, with his father back to the Gaza border, twelve days following radical heart surgery. While at the border, as we were depositing him and his father, the alarm came over the intercom for us to leave quickly. There was a loud noise and in the sky we saw a rocket that had been launched in the direction of S'derot, an Israeli town 10 km from Erez. It fell short and landed in a field. It gave me a small sense of the fear and tension that is felt every time HAMAS fires at Israel, sometimes 10-20 times a day.

I asked Hizam's father about his attitude to coming to Israel from Gaza. He was so happy. ‘Everyone is willing to help a sick child’, he said.

Today there are also several Palestinian children from Hebron to be examined and treated by sensitive and loving Israeli nurses and doctors who provide skilled professional care, served with a generous dollop of kindness and compassion.

Abdullah Siam is a close relative of a senior Hamas leader who was operated on earlier. He is now packed up waiting to return to Gaza following life-saving heart surgery. Yes, even as Hamas is launching rockets at Israel and as the war in Gaza is pounding away, this child received the same loving care as the other children.


Peter said...

Another Kiwi’s View of Israel

By Peter Bray

Dorothy Finlay’s comments about her experience in Israel are intriguing. I am another Kiwi who lives in Bethlehem. I can vouch for similar experiences where Israeli medical personnel were involved. I think it reflects the basic goodness in the hearts of so many Israelis.

I know of one young man, Nadim, from Bethlehem who had a viral infection in the heart muscle. He was waiting for Hadassah Hospital to do a heart transplant. While waiting he went to Hadassah and had an electrical machine installed to regulate his heart. He was well cared for by the Israeli medical people and eventually went home to Bethlehem. However, a few days later his health deteriorated and the doctors in Hadassah Hospital insisted he return there immediately. This is an example of what Dorothy was talking about.

Because he lived in Bethlehem, however, Nadim needed permission to travel to Jerusalem. Despite being warned some days before about Nadim’s condition, the military authorities would not give permission. Requests from many people including the municipality and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council had no impact. After eight hours of anxious pleading the military authorities finally gave permission. Nadim was transferred to an Israeli ambulance at a checkpoint in Beit Jala. The Israeli ambulance rushed him to Hadassah Hospital but he died before arriving. I think this is oppression that had fatal consequences.

One female student at Bethlehem University who comes from East Jerusalem told me about the trauma of going through the checkpoint twice a day. She said the worst thing was coming to the checkpoint in the bus and wondering what was going to happen this time. Was the bus going to be waved through? Was a soldier going to get on the bus and look at their IDs? Was a soldier going to take all their IDs and have them sit there for an hour or hour and a half while they checked each of the IDs? Were they going to be herded off the bus and made to stand in the sun while the soldiers took their IDs and checked them? Were they going to be strip-searched? Were they going to be individually interrogated and humiliated? All these things had happened. So as the bus approached the checkpoint, she wondered which of these was going to happen this time. She and the other students with her endure this twice a day. I think this is oppression.

A few weeks ago one of the women I know in Beit Jala was woken at 2.00am by Israeli soldiers banging on her door. When she answered she was confronted by soldiers with rifles who demanded her brother go with them. They took him and for two hours used him as a human shield while they were looking for someone on their wanted list. Her brother was not wanted by the Israelis, he was just useful. After two hours of frantic waiting her brother returned. I think this is oppression.

There are many young Christian people in Bethlehem who have never been to the Holy Sepulcher. There are many young Muslims who have never been to the Dome of the Rock. They can’t get permission to go. They are a mere ten kilometers away but are not allowed to visit sites that are precious to their religious faith. I think this is oppression.

I acknowledge that it must be very difficult for Israelis who live in fear of their lives from rocket attacks and I condemn the use of those. Violence will not achieve a lasting peace and both sides have suffered because of its use.

While Dorothy talks about incidents where Israelis have responded very positively to the needs of Palestinians and I have known them as well, there are systemic Israeli structures that are oppressing the Palestinians. There will never be a true peace until there is justice and there are many structures that Israel uses that are blatantly unjust.

As another Kiwi living in this land I have a very different experience to that of Dorothy. I see how the daily lives of ordinary good people are so restricted by systemic oppression and an apartheid that keeps so many Palestinians walled in.

Haifa Diarist said...

Whilst Peter Bray has a view of Israel from his perspective living in Bethlehem, he does not take into account the constant attempts by some (I stress some, not all or many)Palestinians to get into Israel in order to carry out terror attacks.

The world media is not intetrested in reporting the number of Palestinians still caught at the drastically reduced number of checkpoints carrying weapons of varying types. There are still gangs, of which Hamas is only one in Judea and Samaria that are determined to destroy any attempts at peace.

In addition the Palestinian leadership makes it clear on their TV programs that it is the duty of every Palestinian to kill Jews so just where is the peace movement of the Palestinians?