By Rolene Marks
It is often said that the foundations of peace will be built by people from the countries where there is conflict who courageously defy divisions and interact and cooperate with each other. While government officials and representatives discuss, argue and negotiate, it is groups of people from both sides of the divide who will build the foundations of peace.
This is hardly a scenario that is anticipated when we speak about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The media (and other interest groups) would rather have you believe that we are two peoples perpetually at each other’s throats and while there definitely is conflict, there are also a myriad of incredible projects that are being done at grassroots levels to encourage dialogue and cooperation.
In these uncertain times, when health and wellbeing is our collective focus, it is extremely critical that those who are particularly vulnerable receive the care that they need. Project Rozana is one such extraordinary organization, fulfilling those needs. Named in honour of a very special little Palestinian girl called Rozana Salawhi, who needed critical medical care, and whose mother sought to find it regardless of race, religion or political divides, Project Rozana endeavours to build bridges of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians by using Israeli excellence and ingenuity in healthcare to treat Palestinians. It is an area of civil society that is proving that Palestinians and Israelis can cooperate on a major scale and interact on a daily basis. This is a relationship that is being built on the basis of equality and mutual respect. The intention of Project Rozana is to help Palestinian medical professionals skill up so that they can build a strong medical infrastructure and provide the best possible care for their communities.
This bridge-building project has attracted the interest of the international community, led by Hadassah Australia and has been embraced by affiliates in the United States, Canada, Israel and across the Palestinian Territories.
Project Rozana runs a variety of programmes to ensure that the vast skill gaps are filled. Palestinian doctors, nurses, therapist and others, receive the best training possible to meet those needs that have been identified in consultation with the Palestinian Advisory Board. The Medical Fellowship Programme funds young clinicians from Palestinian hospitals to train in Israel under highly qualified and experienced Israeli medical specialists. This provides them with the opportunity to train in a much needed sub-specialty including paediatric rehabilitation and peritoneal dialysis (very important because of rising diabetes in the territories) and bring their skills and knowledge back to hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza.
Previous fellows completed their two-year residencies in Paediatric Intensive Care at Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem, and in Anaesthesiology at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv.
Project Rozana also provides funding for critically ill Palestinian children to be treated in Israeli hospitals. This is particularly important when the specific treatment needed is not available or very limited. Children who need it, have also received surgery to deal with DSD – gender dysphoria. This is one of the most medically and socially complex of genetic disorders in the Palestinian population (and Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish population) and presents with ambiguous genitalia.
Children with DSD are subject to gender dysphoria – a condition the dissatisfaction and anxiety they experience due to their body not reflecting their gender, leads to severe psychological distress, anxiety, and depression. Parents too, are subject to stress. Children with DSD receive corrective surgery, made possible by the partnership between Project Rozana and Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Mobile health clinics for women are also an area of major consideration.
Critical under Corona
The Coronavirus global pandemic has also impacted greatly on the medical situation for Palestinians. Project Rozana has been instrumental in helping to get much needed equipment and training to navigate the crisis. Through Project Rozana, Palestinian medical professionals have received essential, up-to-date training from Israeli experts. The Australian government in cooperation with Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad Al-Maliki and Project Rozana, facilitated the delivery of 20 ventilators to be distributed across hospitals in the territories.
At the time of writing this article, Palestinian Chief Negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who is critically ill with Covid-19, is receiving the best possible care in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and is on a ventilator and ECMO machine. As complicated and difficult the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is politically, medicine forms a vital role in helping to build bridges of peace.
Peace between Israelis and Palestinians might not be instantly solved through goodwill gestures like providing top level care for a dignitary like Erekat, but the bridges built by Project Rozana that facilitates and encourages daily cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, may be the strong foundations between people that will help make it an inevitability.
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