In August 2011, I was hospitalized with serious sight-threatening complications following cataract surgery. On admission to the ward, a young Arab doctor, his name showed on his I.D., explained that he needed to examine my eyes once again before the upcoming surgery. I was nauseous and vomiting, had hardly kept down any food during the previous week, a side effect of the high optical pressure, and so weak that my wife pushed me around in a wheelchair.
To say the least, I was feeling very sorry for myself, and didn’t want to be poked in the eye again. The ophthalmic surgeon, who was to do the operation, had, I thought, done all the groundwork the day before and any more probing was adding insult to injury.
A nurse was trying to calm me down. Very uncharacteristically I said to the nurse, “I feel shit.” I don’t usually use bad language. She agreed that I was within my rights to feel sick, but another examination was necessary before the operation, an hour or two later. Both the doctor and the nurse were very reassuring. At the behest of my very loving, but worried wife, I stopped acting like a five-year old and let the doctor do his work. I apologized to him profusely, and was angry at my own behavior.
A bed had been allocated, but had not yet been disinfected. The young woman, who was in the process of cleaning, told me that she would be done in a short while. My wife and I waited patiently, and soon I lay on the very uncomfortable hospital bed.
I was aware of my surroundings, but not interested. My initial operation had been distressful, even painful, having been given minimum local anesthetic as no complications had been expected. My apprehension at the thought of another traumatic experience had me close to panic. I told the surgeon how I felt, and he assured me that he would be gentle. I soon found myself lying on a reclining chair, similar to that used by a dentist.
The area around my eye was prepared and then contrary to the doctor’s promise, I saw this syringe and needle bearing down on my forehead, looking like an intercontinental ballistic missile and reason was replaced by fear. The pain seared my skull, as the anesthetic was injected. Hysteria overcame me as I writhed and complained. The doctor lost his cool, but only for a moment, and said, “I can’t do my job if you don’t keep still.” Sense prevailed, the anodyne took affect and my head was thankfully numb.
Lying in bed, feeling much happier after the operation, which was a success, I was better able to take in my surroundings. I was in a quiet corner bed. My neighbour to my right, who had earlier been talking to visiting family in Arabic, kindly enquired after my health. Another patient was outside on the enclosed balcony, almost a private room attended by his wife. Both wore head coverings typical of the Druse. Most of the patients had visitors at one time or another. Israeli hospitals are like train stations, people coming and going all the time. We all respected each other’s privacy. The mix of ethnic origin, Jews and Arabs, was about even. From the cleaning staff to doctors, all work side by side in harmony. Hospitals in Israel operate equally without regard to creed. Palestinian doctors attend courses given in Israeli hospitals, and live on Israeli kibbutzim during their studies. Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Karem, is one of Israel’s largest hospitals with the most modern equipment and research facilities and the primary teaching facility of the Hebrew University Medical School. Again, I realized how lucky we are in Israel to have one of the most highly rated medical services in the world. In 2005, Hadassah was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in acknowledgment of its equal treatment of all patients, regardless of ethnic and religious differences, and efforts to build bridges to peace.
This got me thinking once again that harmony could prevail in our region in spite of the racial, cultural and religious mix. “Israel Apartheid Week” an orgy of hate, misinformation and disinformation, staged annually, on many college campuses across the USA and the world since early 2005, has caused Israel to be branded an “Apartheid State”.
The use of this derogatory term was chosen to denounce to the separation barrier Israel was forced to build to keep terrorists from killing Jews. My anger rose as I thought of Jimmy Carter, who as an ex-U.S. president, influences public opinion, and his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, 2006. He is, I’m sure, aware of this power, but should wield it with wisdom, not by using deceptive slogans. I will be charitable, and give him the benefit of the doubt, that some Madison Avenue type suggested the title as it has a smooth sound and glides easily off the tongue. Many Israelis, from both the Left and Right, did not want the barrier. Nevertheless, it has been a singular success in saving lives.
I grew up in South Africa during the years of minority rule and feel myself more than qualified to understand living in an “apartheid” society. I was never happy to live under this unjust system and left with my family in 1979. In South Africa, Whites had all facilities - suburbs, hospitals, schools, restaurants, hotels, public toilets, buses, – apart from, hence the word “apartheid”, those of non-Whites. This included Blacks, people of mixed race known locally as Coloreds, and Asians, descendents of laborers imported from the British Raj to work the sugar plantations in the mid-19th century who were later followed by Indian traders. A small number of shops still had signs over the doorway, “Native shop”, that is, for Africans only. Park benches were of course, marked “Whites Only”.
Apropos of India, independence brought about the transfer of millions of Muslims and Hindus between the emerging states of Pakistan and India, without a murmur from human rights activists and little help from the United Nations. The situation was still unresolved as late as 2007. India also took the state of Hyderabad by force, although their ruler had been given the choice of sovereignty, that is, independence, joining neither India nor Pakistan. The world reacted without comment.
The Palestinians, having rejected Partition, are the only group to have their own refugee organization, UNRWA, still being used by them as a crutch after nearly sixty-four years.
Non-Jewish Israelis, Muslims and Christian alike, are able to pursue their lives and follow their own beliefs. The universities are bustling with Arab students in all faculties, including medical schools, where few places are available to the many who apply. In the army, Druse and Bedouin Arab men serve generation after generation with pride and distinction. Arabs serve in the diplomatic corps, and also in the judiciary.
These facts are constantly ignored by those who wish to pillory Israel. Not even those icons of the media; the BBC, The Times of London and The New York Times give Israel a fair deal. Other papers, The Independent, The Guardian in England and many in America are positively hostile.
Entertainment personalities, the likes of Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Ken Loach and Roger Waters show a unique bias when it comes to the Jewish state. Miss Lennox appeared before the television cameras, berating Israel for defending itself against Hamas. Where is she when thousands are being slaughtered in Syria and basic human rights are denied in Iran? Her silence is deafening! Has she suddenly developed a dislike for the spotlight?
Apparently, some lawyer in the U.S. State Department believes that the 1948 cease-fire lines are for some unknown reason sacrosanct. All land beyond this line in which Israelis live is “occupied”, whereas previously it had only been disputed. Politician after politician, both those who pretend to care about Israel such as Tony Blair, as well as those who openly wish our destruction, mostly Muslims, have decided that Israelis living beyond the pre-1967 borders are doing so illegally and against international law.
Many brilliant legal minds, including the late Eugene Rostow, a former Dean of the Yale Law School and Under Secretary for Politcal Affairs in Lyndon B. Johnson's administration, disagree with this premise. But because they are pro-Israel their opinions are dismissed. Even Ban Ki-moon, who should by the nature of his august office in the U.N., remain neutral, has adopted this fallacious position.
When a ‘right-wing’ party heads an Israeli coalition government, Israel’s detractors accuse the prime minister of not wanting to make peace, and when the leaders are from the ‘left-wing’, not enough concessions are being made to the Palestinians.
Israel accepted Partition in 1947. After defending herself in the Six Day War negotiations were offered, but to no avail. Menahem Begin made peace with Egypt and Yitzhak Rabin with Jordan. The Israeli army withdrew from Southern Lebanon, in spite of the lack of Lebanese sovereignty. Ariel Sharon, once the despised ultra-hawk, gave Gaza, with all its infrastructure, over to the ‘moderate’ Palestinians in spite of the daily missile attacks. It was immediately lost to the radicals.
Until the Arabs concede “the right of return”, an adjustment of Israel’s fragile borders, especially at the narrowest point in the center of the country, the retaining of large settlement blocs, recognition as a Jewish State and the right to live in our historical homeland, Israel cannot afford to make a meaningless peace.
It is true that hospitals are an island of tranquility where politics and religion are left at the door. Perhaps we can build on this and hope that a day without conflict will dawn in our region, sooner rather than later.