HA’EMEK, ISRAEL, March 30, 2011, 1:30 p.m. – Our itinerary said only, “Visit ORT school at HaEmek hospital.” Not much information. What I would see and hear today was unlike anything I could ever imagine.
World ORT, one of Federation’s lesser known beneficiaries, is operating a school within this hospital, which is located near the Gaza border and serves a population of around 500,000. The school helps children staying at the hospital keep up with their studies in all of their school subjects. ORT supplies models of the body so the children can better understand why they are there and what may be involved in their treatment. The organization also provides computers with programs that provide educational content in a “live” interactive format. The school also offers multi-media games, art projects and sports activities.
The program is multi-cultural and includes Jews, Muslims and Christians. Around the time of our visit, 13 of the 25 students at the ORT school were Jewish.
We toured the school, handing out chocolates and stickers to the students – many in bandages and casts. We greeted their families. We witnessed the school lessons and medical education in action.
Then we saw Mohammed.
With an IV by his side, he sat in his colorful hospital gown playing on the computer. He was bald and he wore a mask to keep the germs out. Under the mask, I could see a mass around his jaw line. I put on my journalist’s hat and soon learned this 14-year-old was in the advanced stages of cancer, that has spread to his neck and face area.
We offered him chocolate and he scooped it up. When I told him I would put a big supply directly in his IV, he exploded in laughter, clapping his hands wildly. He would continue to show this incredible zest for life as we participated with the students in a group art activity.
Mohammed has been coming back and forth fromGazafor treatment, according to Irit, one of the school’s teachers. His father was working inIsraelbefore theGazawithdrawal several years ago.
While the treatment the hospital is providing may not be effectively fighting the cancer anymore, it has made a difference in how Mohammed feels about the country that has been a hated enemy of the leaders of Hamas, who now controlGaza.
“I asked him (his father) what his son said aboutIsraelto the other children inGaza. He saidIsraelis the ‘gate to heaven.’”
I began to tear up. While I know the realities thatIsraelfaces with Gaza– something that was reinforced first-hand on this very trip – Mohammed’s words gave me a sense of hope. Maybe it was a tiny glimmer in the large scheme of things – but it was hope, nevertheless. And Irit felt the same.
“We don’t speak to the people in Gaza. We think they hate us,” she said. “It doesn’t change me. But it gives me satisfaction I did something so good for somebody else. It’s a mitzvah.”
She then paused and said, “Maybe it’s our small contribution to peace.”
Jeff Kaye, Chief Development Officer for World ORT, helped put things in perspective.
“Hospitals are neutral territory. They are a place for healing. You can have a terrorist and his or her victim lying side-by-side here,” he said. “You can think of them as ‘bridges to peace,’ helping the country deal with its challenges.”
Asked how one would respond to someone who would question whether a hospital should care for a patient from the enemy side, Kaye said: “If we can show our humanitarian side and create some dissonance among those on the other side, maybe some progress can be made.”
What do you think?