2016 Was a Great Year - At Least in Israeli Hospitals

American med students experience coexistence in wards across the country.

2016 is a year that many people would happily forget. The ugly US election, the war in Syria, the series of deaths of much-beloved celebrities – there were more than enough reasons to wish 2016 would just end.

However, for American students studying medicine in Israel, 2016 was also the year in which Israeli hospitals reminded the world that Jews and Arabs can work really well together.

American med students experience coexistence on the wards
Technion student Jake Moskovitz intubating his first patientTechnion

For years, Israeli hospitals have cultivated coexistence alongside their everyday healing activities. It's not just that, faced with the enormity of death, medical staff and patients have learned to set aside their differences. Rather, by interacting day in and day out with patients and staff from a diverse range of backgrounds, hospitals have become sterile, hopeful, bubbles of actual coexistence, enabling Jews and Arabs to truly connect. 

Medical students from abroad participating in the Technion's American Medical Program, have witnessed firsthand how hospitals seem to bypass the conflict completely. Lihi Tzur, a Jewish 3rd year student from Virginia, was particularly impressed by how the Arab and Jewish staff got along at Haifa's Bnei Zion Medical Center. "During our time [on rotation] here, there were a lot of Arab holidays," said Lihi. "The doctors that observed these holidays would take off their holy days and the Israelis happily covered for them. In addition, the Arab doctors often brought baked goods relating to their holiday to share with the entire department!"

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Her rotation at HaEmek Medical Center in Afula left her with another positive account of Jewish-Arab relations, with Jewish doctors going out of their way to learn Arabic to communicate better with the hospital's many Arab patients.

students are watching x-ray
Technion students reading an X-rayTechnion

Her experience is luckily not unique. Amira*, a Jewish nurse in one of Hadassah Ein Karem's busy internal medicine wards, feels like the Jewish and Arab staff are one big family. "We get along really well," Amira explained. "We all take care of each other." In spite of the language barriers, the staff on the ward participate in each others celebrations. "I've been to Arab weddings - I love the dancing there! - and the Arab nurses and doctors have been to our bar-mitzvahs". 

Amira is just as positive about interacting with Arab patients. "We get patients from all over, even from beyond the green line. Once we get an Arab doctor, nurse, or cleaning person to translate, the care proceeds as usual."

Noah Schwartz, a Jewish 4th year student from Toronto, brings the following example of how Jews and Arabs can have totally normal working relationships in hospitals, complete with humor.  "I'm currently working in the obgyn department at Bnai Zion," he explained. "I was scrubbed into a surgery when the senior doctor, who's Arab, turns to me in the middle and asks, 'Are you familiar with the movie with Russell Crowe?' I wasn't sure which of the many possible movies he was referring to when he yelled, 'Noah!' We then had a discussion about how weird the movie was, and how (in his words, not mine), they totally changed the way the story is told in the Torah." 

The inspiring story of how Israeli hospitals empower Jews and Arabs to treat other like human beings has in recent years transcended the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israeli hospitals up north treating wounded Syrians, citizens of an enemy state. As one wounded Syrian told Reuters, "In the past we used to know Israel as our enemy. That's what the regime used to tell us ... When we came to Israel we changed our minds, there is no enmity between us."

So yes, 2016 was the worst of times. Sadly, there's no guarantee that 2017 will be the best of times either.

However, no matter what is happening outside of their walls, Israeli hospitals are quietly leading the way in making coexistence work. Nat Green, a 3rd-year student at the Technion's American Medical Program, suggested that "the hospitals of Israel ought to be a model of how different people should work together." It's not a bad idea.

*Amiras name has been changed as per her request.

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