Israeli and Palestinian doctors affect change on the ground

by Leo Kramer
WASHIGTON – Last week, Prof. Marc Gopin wrote an article titled, “Leo the Healer: an untold story of Jewish/Palestinian medical partnership.” The first responses have been positive and encouraging.

The article asks what we can do to help Israelis and Palestinians live in peace with justice. Prof. Gopin examined one of the foremost difficulties existing between the two sides: the border closing problems between Israel and The West Bank/Gaza, and the daily struggle of medical practitioners to save lives when political issues interfere.

How can people who care deal with these issues? Writing about them publicises an unspoken reality, which lends support to those working to find solutions; conferences bring together those who want to help.

These efforts, however, must also be directed towards achieving results on the ground. That means ameliorating the insecurity of the Israelis, while addressing the deprivation of the Palestinians, their need for medical services, goods, utilities, food and freedom of movement. The overt violence of the conflict is bad enough for both sides, without the medical and humanitarian border crises, which thwart the struggle to maintain a basic standard of living for the Palestinians.

To properly approach security and standard of living concerns, we must consider the following:

1. Israel came to agreements with Egypt and Jordan without demanding that they first recognise Israel.

2. The Palestinians do not have the military capability to invade Israel. They can do harm to nearby cities, but a Palestinian invasion is out of the question.

3. To believe in democracy and promote it by deeds as well as words means countries (including the United States and Israel) must accept the results of an honest election, even though they did not support the winners.

4. When the deeds do not match the words, trust is lost. After an election that was certified as honest by observers from the United States, necessities which cross the border to Gaza were rationed, cut back, and limited. What religious tradition advocates such actions against a civilian population? Certainly the Christian, Muslim or Jewish religions would not justify such a response.

5. Israel recently prevented university students from Gaza to travel abroad to study at institutions which had already accepted them. This involved hundreds of students who are still waiting for permission to cross the border, including Fulbright scholars to American universities. It is to Israel’s advantage to have an educated populace at their border, especially if they have received their education in the western tradition.

Awareness of the above issues would contribute to achieving results on the ground.

Ten years ago, I addressed my synagogue on a theme I find central to making a difference on the ground. Someone in the Congress read it and felt it worthy of being reprinted in the Congressional Record.

In the “sermon,” titled, The Palestinians: the Strangers Among Us, I raised many questions regarding the poor treatment of others—illustrating many examples of careless and indifferent handling of relationships between the two sides. Terrorism must be stopped, but to act in ways which create a rationale for more terrorism is counter-productive.

Sadly, many of the problems I referred to in the Congressional Record still exist, and new ones have been added. I have continued to try to produce results on the ground, and to alleviate the antagonism. I have focused through my non-profit, the Foundation for Applied Research (FAR), on the private Israeli and Palestinian doctors who make a positive difference and who revive hope and trust by their deeds on the ground. As Prof. Gopin wrote in inspirational terms, they demonstrate that cooperation is possible when the goal is clear. We don't always do a good job defining "peace;" sometimes the clearest, most achievable goals are the ones that aim to alleviate the suffering of individuals on the ground.

There are many citizens in both Israel and Gaza who are trying to alleviate the trauma through a variety of approaches—religious, educational, sports, business, entertainment, and more. These people of good will are a sign of hope. But the leaders on both sides must also remember what their religions teach about treating the "other," the strangers among us, and our neighbours. Peace, which must eventually join the two societies, will be built upon the results of these efforts.

The Israeli and Palestinian doctors are a positive example, one that will have ramifications far beyond what we can now envision. I believe strongly that to help the Palestinians is also to help Israel, and I hope and pray that we will succeed.

Otherwise we will be asking the same difficult questions in another ten years.


* Leo Kramer is President of the Foundation for Applied Research (FAR), and Chairman of the Steering Committee on Health. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

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

Source: Common Ground Service, 17 July 2008,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
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Leo the healer: an untold story of Jewish/Palestinian medical partnership
Building peace through health in the Middle East
Infectious disease surveillance as a bridge to peace in the Middle East
Individuals must not be punished for the actions of their governments
A call for cultural competency in Jerusalem's medical services
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Other articles in this series

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