Leo the healer: an untold story of Jewish/Palestinian medical partnership

by Marc Gopin
WASHINGTON – It is the innocent victims of war that break our hearts when nations and groups cannot lay down their arms. We watch them bleed, we watch them die on a battlefield that is their home, and then we seethe with the outrage of Biblical prophets. But there are others among us who have no patience for impassive prophetic rage. They are the ones who sidestep the violence and, instead of shirking the bleeding of the innocent, replace the lost blood. They repair the bodies and thus embrace with both arms the ancient art of healing.

There is a particular group of healers that share a common DNA. They are from two traditions, both tracing back to Abraham/Ibrahim, whose grave lies not far from the bodies that they repair. I speak of Jewish and Palestinian doctors who have partnered in their determination to find the requisite blood, medicines, and surgical equipment that their trauma patients need to survive. These doctors, while not explicitly political, know that saving anyone’s life is a powerful protest against senseless killing.

For all of their work in the Holy Land, they have come to rely on one religious Jew who lives 6,000 miles away in Washington, DC, where he goes to synagogue every Saturday. His name is Leo Kramer, and he opens up doors at the most senior levels of Israel’s diplomatic, health, and military establishments—doors that no one else has seemed able to open. Leo understands borders between enemies, for he has been crossing them his whole life.

The border between Israelis and Palestinians decides the fate of the innocents. Do they live or do they die? Do they give birth and haemorrhage on the spot? Does the heart attack turn fatal on the border? Does the medicine sit and rot, or is it stored in a cool emergency refrigerator? These are a few of the questions answered on this border between enemies. It is only through the social networks of courageous people that borders can be conquered, where a bond between healers and lifesavers can be established.

Leo does what he does because his American and Jewish values call on him not to pander to the smaller minds of nationalists who live in fear and hatred. A life is a life, and blood from an innocent body is an outrage as old as the blood of Abel; Leo will not let that blood cry from the earth into which it seeps. One Israeli Jewish doctor said of Leo, “After 20 years that I am treating Palestinian patients, facing numerous obstacles on my way, for the first time, thanks to you, I actually met the people in charge from both sides.”

The Palestinian doctors who have engaged in this effort do not have an easy life. It is not easy to simply focus on medicine when injustice and deprivation surround you. It is not easy to persuade family and friends that your engagement with ‘the enemy’ has a higher purpose, that engagement can build a more hopeful future. The Jewish doctors do not have it easy either. It is much easier to go to work unaware of the medical disasters a few miles away. It is not easy to enter this raw reality and discover the dark side of your culture, a culture you may otherwise be very proud of. These Palestinian and Jewish men and women are the quiet heroes of this terrible fight, a struggle that has entranced the world’s media viewers. To reinforce these quiet heroes and overwhelm the fear and humiliation of both sides, we need to weave a larger tapestry of cooperation, illustrating empathetic diplomacy and the social networking of enemies.

Leo Kramer is a classic citizen diplomat who models what I argue is the hope of the earth’s future. Citizen diplomats have the flexibility and independence of conscience to engage people across enemy lines, the capacity to both love and buck their cultural and national identities at the same time. They become bridges where none exist, beacons of hope in the dark realities of war. I cannot think of a better model of citizenship as we Americans struggle – as a people and as a nation – to crawl our way out of eight disastrous years navigating the borders between enemies.


* Dr. Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor of Conflict Resolution and Director of CRDC, George Mason University. His website is www.marcgopin.com, and he can be reached at: mgopin@gmu.edu. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

This article is part of a special series on Israeli-Palestinian cross-border medical practices.

Source: Common Ground News, 10 July 2008, www.commongroundnews.org.
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Infectious disease surveillance as a bridge to peace in the Middle East
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A call for cultural competency in Jerusalem's medical services
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Other articles in this series

Israeli and Palestinian doctors affect change on the ground by Leo Kramer
Building peace through health in the Middle East by Cesar Chelala
Infectious disease surveillance as a bridge to peace in the Middle East by Dr. Alex Leventhal
Individuals must not be punished for the actions of their governments by Mya Guarnieri
A call for cultural competency in Jerusalem's medical services by Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir