There's No EKG - but There Is Reflexology

Roan Omar, 5, lies on a bed in a government clinic in East Barta'a in the Wadi Ara region. Her mother, Hadija, 27, sits beside her, wrapped in a black veil. Hadas Shoham, a holistic practitioner, asks the girl to close her eyes. She places her hands on the girl's body and touches her temples for extended periods. Roan has thalessemia, a genetic blood disease. She suffers from headaches and dizziness, and receives frequent blood transfusions in the Jenin Hospital. Hadija heard that alternative therapists and Israeli physicians came to the Barta'a clinic on Mondays, and therefore decided to bring her daughter.

"This is her fifth treatment. It relieves the child's suffering and reduces her headaches," she says. "Our situation is difficult. We have to go to the Jenin Hospital, every month, and we are delayed at checkpoints for hours each time."

Hadija looks at Shoham, a member of Middleway - Compassionate Engagement in Society, non-profit organization that treats her daughter. She speaks with restraint, "this treatment helps my daughter's daily functioning, but also teaches me that there are other [kinds of] Israelis. I don't hate Israelis. I hate the occupation that denies my freedom to easily travel with my daughter to receive treatment."

Middleway (Shvil Zahav in Hebrew) was founded in 2002, to promote non-violent goals, compassion and a peaceful society. About 1,000 members participate in the organization's silent peace walks in Jewish and Arab communities around the country. They engage in "circle dialogues" and workshops, in an effort to promote dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. "The organization was not conceived as a 'physicians' organization.' We didn't imagine that we would be providing medical treatment to the Palestinian population," explains member Maureen Amelia-Brody, one of the founders of the Barta'a clinic project. "About a year ago, we arrived in the village on a peace walk," Amelia-Brody explains. "We were exposed to the complex reality of life that prevents residents from receiving basic, medical services. Then the concept of establishing a medical clinic arose. We have many alternative practitioners in our ranks and we decided to use what we have at our disposal to help the local population."

Barta'a straddles both sides of the Green Line in the Wadi Ara region. In 1949, the village was divided along the wadi into two parts: Barta'a al-Gharbiyah, in the West, remained in Israeli territory, while Barta'a al-Sharkiyah, in the East, was annexed to Jordan. Because most of Barta'a's residents belong to the extended Kabha family, the bisection of the village separated relatives. In 1967, the village was "reunited." Nazem Bahous, a resident of Shfaram and member of Middleway quips, "the entire Arab world wept over the defeat to Israel. Only the residents of Barta'a were happy."

Crossing a transparent border

The tragic story of Barta'a may be invisible to casual visitors, but a transparent, "policy border" weaves the fabric of life in the village. While Barta'a's Israeli population (about 4,700 residents) moves freely, its Palestinian population (about 3,600 residents of whom only 30-40 percent carry Israeli identity cards) are prevented from entering Israeli territory, including the other side of their village. They face stiff fines and imprisonment if they cross into Israeli Barta'a. Moreover, the Defense Ministry is now threatening to build a fence to divide the village.

Eastern Barta'a is the largest village in the 18,000 dunam enclave that was created in the West Bank in 2003 when the separation fence was erected five kilometers away from the Green Line. The fence separated Barta'a from the Jenin district. In addition to isolating village residents with Palestinian identity cards from Israeli Barta'a, the fence limited their movement within the West Bank. Residents who seek the services of the government hospital in Jenin must produce permits at the Reihan checkpoint, which operates from 6:30 A.M. to 9 P.M.

"Palestinian Barta'a is separated from any basic medical infrastructure," says Marwan Kabha, deputy director of the Eastern Barta'a Local Council. "What is a laboring mother or a man with a heart attack supposed to do after 9 P.M.? And I am not just talking about emergencies. We lack medical specialists in many fields: Internal medicine, pediatrics. We receive Middleway's assistance with great love. They see the extent of the humanitarian crisis that we are exposed to and attempt to provide assistance on the ground."

A line of waiting patients gradually assembles at the clinic. Residents, who have grown accustomed to practitioners and physicians' Monday visits consistently arrive for their appointments. Nazem Bahous coordinates doctors' appointments. He says that Middleway members joined the clinic after Jewish terrorist Eden Natan-Zada killed four people in Shfaram, in 2005. "Middleway members came to Shfaram after the murders to conduct listening circles," he recalls. "I fell in love with the character of their operations, especially with the organization's motto: 'There is no path to peace. Peace is the path [Mahatma Gandhi].' I joined their activities with my family."

Amelia-Brody says that Barta'a residents were initially skeptical of alternative treatments. "We solved this problem by visiting the homes of residents and treating sick women. The women quickly spread the word that treatments were effective and the rest of the population began arriving. We know that alternative therapies are complementary treatment and we try to address daily problems. We added a family physician, who arrives monthly, and when confronted with complex cases, we attempt to obtain entry permits into Israel, and refer residents to physicians in hospitals in Israel. We are striving to enlist more physicians, and establish a center in which Israeli physicians will train local physicians."

Dr. Khaled Samour, an ear, nose and throat specialist from Jenin, employed by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), arrives at the clinic with a pharmacist and an ambulance driver.

Bilingual treatment

"I come here twice a week to treat the local population," he says. "It is not easy for us to enter and we are delayed for hours at the checkpoint. My medical residence is specific but I am required to treat every case I encounter because of the absence of medical staff. It is not possible to conduct routine medical testing here because there is no equipment. It is impossible to X-ray patients or conduct EKG examinations. The only physician here is an elderly gentleman with heart disease."

Conversation is interrupted by an alarmed Nablus resident who arrives in the clinic. "I am married to a Palestinian resident of Barta'a and I live here," he explains. "My wife gave birth a week ago and she's hospitalized in the government hospital in Jenin. She needs two units of Type O, Rh+ blood and there is none in the hospital. I don't have a permit to cross the checkpoint and I don't know what to do."

Dr. Khaled and his team set forth for the hospital in Jenin. "Don't worry. We'll go into the mosque in Jenin and announce that we need a blood donation," he attempts to assure the distressed husband.

Middleway activities in the village, which initially only included treatment, quickly expanded to provision of courses in alternative medicine for residents. A group which is studying reflexology assembles in one room in the clinic. "Our goal is to treat residents but also provide them with the necessary knowledge to treat themselves," says Tzila Berman, a physiotherapist and reflexologist.

At the nearby local council building, Stephen Fulder, one of the founders of Middleway, teaches a course in herbal medicine. "There are 40 people in the class," he proudly announces. "They may use this knowledge to address daily problems that bother family members and gain security and encouragement from a medical tradition that actually grew from their culture. Many peace organizations forgot that the most important thing is creating connections with people and creating trust on both sides."

Nazem's wife, Rahab Bahous, an elementary school Hebrew teacher in Shfaram, provides Hebrew lessons to the women in the village. "I initially translated the Israeli therapists' comments in Arabic. The women gradually began to ask to learn the language," she says. "They said that they wanted to learn how to speak to soldiers at checkpoints. I also have a student whose son studies in Barta'a, in an Israeli school. She didn't know how to speak Hebrew, and now that she is studying, she can help him with his homework for the first time."