It’s Raining Arab Doctors, Despite Netanyahu

How is it that in Arab cities, which produce so many doctors, in a country that so badly needs doctors, there are no government hospitals?

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Jewish and Arab hospital staff work in the emergency room at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.Credit: Tomer Neuberg

When, blessings, a child is born in Arraba, a Lower Galilee city with 25,000 residents, he’s tossed at a wall. If it sticks, it’s a sign the child was born to be a plasterer. If it falls, you have another floor tiler. In recent years though, there’s been a twist: Together with diapers for the newborn, the proud parents buy a stethoscope. Who knows, maybe that medical gene will pop out during the night.

It turns out that Arraba is quite the factory for creating doctors. The city ranks first not only in Israel, but in the entire world, for doctors per capita. A cautious estimate puts the number of doctors at more than 250. Incidentally, the proliferation of doctors characterizes the Israeli Arab community as a whole. The first Zionists planned for the local Arabs to be loggers or water pumpers. A wrong turn on the way wound up creating doctors. It’s high time for a government inquiry.

Meanwhile, if you feel like a heart attack is on the way, there’s no better place to be than Arraba. To get there, you’ll need Waze as dictated by the stand-up comedian Nidal Badarna: “Watch out for the huge pothole in the middle of the road, which is a dirt road. There’s a wedding party in the middle of the road. Turn around.” Incidentally, Badarna also hails from Arraba but oddly, he didn’t become a doctor.

But before Netanyahu’s demagogic gene pops and he starts to take pride in us, it bears elaborating that most of the Arab doctors in Israel studied in Europe or Jordan, where the young Arabs are welcomed after their rejection by their own nation – for instance, by raising the age of accepting students or requiring psychometric tests unsuited to their way of life. It’s a good thing there is a world outside, without a Benjamin Netanyahu who sees these young people as a demographic threat. Thanks to Europe, which learned from its own history, and a giant thanks to Jordan, which is groaning under the burden of refugees from Syria yet does not abandon our sons – it sends them home with a stethoscope around their necks, to care for Arabs and Jews as one.

Decades ago, given the socialist nations’ support for training Arab doctors from Israel, mediated by the communist parties, a racist gene created acceptance tests that their own authors would probably have failed. Israel tosses its Arab sons onto the waters of the wide world, and when the world generously returns them with certificate in hand, the racist gene shows them who calls the shots over here. For decades, activists have been trying to cancel these draconian standards.

The state has another gene up its sleeve: the Arab-bypass gene. In places with large concentrations of Arabs, with a lot of doctors and nurses, they don’t set up government hospitals. Why shouldn’t expropriated land in Sakhnin be dedicated to the establishment of a hospital for all the people in northern Israel? How is it that in Arab cities, which produce so many doctors, in a country that so badly needs doctors, there are no government hospitals?

Seeing the deluge of social-media applause for the newly minted doctors flooding the community in droves, I am reminded of the long-distant past, when my mother of blessed memory would take me to the clinic in Nazareth (there was none in Yafia). All the doctors were Jews, who were treating the many patients with dedication. We would arrive at the clinic at around 6 A.M. to get a realistic place in line. Women would collect there (the men would be in central Israel, making a living). The clinic would throng with life, gossip, biscuits. Some women would come to the clinic on a daily basis, because of their sheer number of children with their illnesses and also, admit it, for the company. They say that once Umm-Hassan didn’t show up and when asked why, she answered, “I was sick.”

The names of the Jewish doctors there still ring in my head: “A-doktor Levy, “A-doktor Shaim” (which may or may not be right, but that’s what I remember). If there’s something that begs hope for joint life in this country, it will be the actions of those Jewish doctors of those days, in whose hand an Arab mother would deposit her son, without hesitation.

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