SYDNEY – A groundbreaking Australian initiative that will help treat critically ill Palestinian children has been launched by a Jewish and a Christian organization.
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Project Rozana, a collaboration between Hadassah Australia, Anglican Overseas Aid and Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, aims to raise funds in Australia to help treat sick Palestinian kids and train Palestinian doctors and psychologists at one of Israel’s leading hospitals.
The 5-year-old Palestinian girl who inspired the project failed to appear at the official launch in Melbourne last Friday, however.
Rozana Ghannam, who was saved by Hadassah doctors after she fell from the window of her ninth-story apartment near Ramallah last year, was unable to depart Ben-Gurion International Airport with her mother last week due to complications with their travel documents.
“In addition, I was subjected to harsh treatment at the airport, which is a reflection of what we Palestinians have been suffering under occupation for decades,” Maysa Ghannam, a journalist, said in a speech read aloud at the launch.
“What happened won’t change my mind about my humanitarian message,” she added. “Health treatment is one of the crucial rights we struggle for against those who oppose the peace process. … The doctors at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem in particular are symbols of love, life and humanity."
'I was shouting and weeping'
Ghannam recalled what happened moments after her daughter’s accident: “I didn’t expect that Rozana was still alive. I was shouting and weeping, asking anybody to help. They asked the Palestinian ambulance to take us to Ramallah Hospital. But I insisted to call the Israeli ambulance to give her treatment in Hadassah Hospital.”
“My little poor baby girl was bleeding from liver, kidney, spleen, lungs, bladder and broken hip, skull," she wrote.
Ghannam, who is expected to arrive in Australia with her daughter this week, wrote that the Hadassah doctors “gave my daughter back [her] life. They gave me my life back too."
“Rozana is now a miracle of life, a Palestinian girl who returned to life at the hands of doctors – Jews and Arabs,” she wrote.
The initiative is the brainchild of Hadassah Australia President Ron Finkel, a Labor Zionist whose son was born at Hadassah in 1981.
Finkel noted that Project Rozana may never have happened without the “seminal role” played by Izzat Abdulhadi, the representative of the Palestinian Authority in Canberra.
“The reason that we are here today is that Izzat embraced the idea of Australians working together to raise funds to help build health capacity in Palestine and to treat critically ill Palestinian children through the agency of Hadassah Hospital,” Finkel said at the launch.
“Izzat became our shadchan – Yiddish for 'matchmaker,'” he said, pointing to the involvement of Anglican Overseas Aid, the overseas relief agency of the Anglican Church in Australia.
“The project is indeed significant and it appears it is the first time that the Palestinian Authority has entered into a partnership with private Australian organizations,” Abdulhadi, the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, told Haaretz.
The project, which has been endorsed by Palestinian Health Minister Hani Abdeen, “places the ultimate guidance of the project in the hands of Palestinians,” Abdulhadi said.
“I'm delighted to see Australian support for Palestinian self-determination and state-building,” he said.
The first project of its kind
In an email to Finkel on May 13, Dr. Abdeen, who visited Hadassah for the first time earlier this month, wrote: “Your interest in providing any help possible to bring together the two sides in this conflict – Palestinian and Israeli – through health paradigms is something I subscribe for and support without any reservation.”
Finkel said he believes it’s the first time that Australians will be able to make tax-deductible donations to an overseas aid program in which the fundraising is done jointly by a Christian and Jewish national organization, and in which the funds are deployed exclusively in Israel for the benefit of Palestinians.
He said he hopes to raise more than $500,000 a year for the project, with the funds directed to three key areas: helping to treat Palestinian kids in the pediatric intensive care unit at Hadassah; training Palestinian doctors from the West Bank and Gaza at Hadassah; and training Palestinian psychologists and trauma counselors at Hadassah.
“All those trained will return to the West Bank and Gaza to build the capacity of the Palestinian health care system,” said Finkel, who was president of the World Union of Jewish Students in the 1970s. “This is not welfare – it’s not a hand out but a hand up.”
Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier said the project will bring together “people of different faiths and cultures with one clear objective – making a real difference for Palestinian children.”
Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, added: “Every project that promotes and advances people-to-people activities is welcomed. We fully endorse the support and collaborations between NGOs and religious institutions in such projects.”