Two healthcare professionals – one Israeli, the other Palestinian – were in Ottawa, November 21, and discussed “building bridges of peace” at Church of Bartholomew.
Dr. Sagit Arbel-Alon, deputy director of the Reut Rehabilitation Medical Centre in Tel Aviv, and Akram Armo, PhD, CEO of the Green Land Society for Health Development in Hebron, spoke about their work saving patients’ lives by developing healthcare capacity and building trust and mutual respect in Palestinian and Israeli communities.
The event was hosted by Project Rozana, an international initiative which raises funds for the transport and treatment of critically ill Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank to Israeli hospitals. It also funds the training of Palestinian doctors, nurses and therapists in Israel in order to improve healthcare in Palestinian communities.
Arbel-Alon said Project Rozana, which was founded in 2013, depends on three Ts: Training Palestinian doctors, nurses and therapists; Transporting critically-ill Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank to Israeli hospitals; and, Treating Palestinian children in Israel with levels of care unavailable or not readily accessible in Palestinian hospitals.
The fourth, unofficial ‘T’ that Arbel-Alon cited was Tikkun Olam, the Jewish imperative for repair of the world.
“As a patriotic Israeli, I can’t turn a blind eye to the situation,” she said. “I want to find solutions and live alongside my neighbours with as much love and care as I can, and medicine is the best opportunity for me to show that.”
Armo said that in 2017, 1,000 volunteers travelled a combined total of more than one million km bringing Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals. Transporting Palestinians to hospitals in Israel is “much more complicated than it looks,” he explained, as the costs are prohibitive for most Palestinian families.
“These are people with severe chronic illnesses, from cancer to kidney failure,” Armo said. “The organization found there was a greater and greater need for patients to be transferred to Israeli hospitals.”
Another Project Rozana initiative is “Patient Navigators,” which involves guiding patients and caregivers during interactions with medical staff in order to overcome language and cultural obstacles that could disrupt care.
Jon Allen, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel who sits on the Project Rozana board, said Patient Navigators provide psychosocial counselling and language interpretations in Israeli hospitals, in order to avoid the “foreignness” many Palestinian children face when they arrive in Israeli hospitals where people speak Hebrew.
Allen said Rozana is also seeking to raise the capacity of Palestinian healthcare by training specialists in Israel.
“The problem is that Palestinian doctors who make their specialty in the United States or Europe tend to not come back, as they can enjoy a better socio-economic status,” Allen explained. “This way, they train in Israel, but they can return home on the weekends or on a daily basis,” he said.
“You don’t build resilience and capacity in your community if your best and brightest are leaving,” Allen said.
Arbel-Alon said she believes Israelis and Palestinians need to come together and, “look to find a solution that will give us all a secure access to all healthcare, and allow us to find a way to live prosperous lives together.
“It can be done, and the way we practice medicine together shows how it can be done,” she said.
Visit https://canada.projectrozana.org for more information about Project Rozana.