Palestinian Citizen of Israel Delegation: Hand 2009
Connecting Across Divisions as a Doctor: Speech at the Hands of Peace Benefit, at the Chicago Botanic Gardnens on April 7th, 2019
Growing up in this country, we both feel different for different reasons. Being a Palestinian Citizen of Israel is not an easy thing to define. Citizens of Israel are not only jewish Israelis, but also, like me, Palestinian Arabs.
During Hands of Peace, I started learning how I wanted to define myself. For Palestinians of the West Bank, it was easier to define themselves, and for the Jewish Israelis, it was easy. For our delegation, we were stuck in the middle. Seeing other people having an easier time explaining their identity — I am a Palestinian, I am an Israeli — I have more difficulty, whether I’m talking to airport security, to my new Hands of Peace host family, and to others I’ve met along the way. I live in Israel, but I am Palestinian.
Although I feel different, there were certain expectations, a feeling that things should be done a certain way — what you think, how you think, what you say and how it’s said. You feel you’re stuck with a group of people different than you and you have absolutely no idea how to deal with it.
It feels like different expectations come from all directions. The Israeli community that we live with and interact with on a daily basis has expectations of us as Israelis — that we be more open. Palestinians expect us as Palestinians who still live on our land — to not accept interacting with Jewish Israelis. For me it is even harder because my mom is from Jerusalem and part of my mother’s family lives in the West Bank. I see complications from all sides
Some Palestinian friends don’t understand how I can work in an Israeli hospital and treat soldiers sometimes in the ER. But this is my reality. Even for myself, I ask myself these questions most days. Being part of Hands of Peace and getting to sit down and talk about these issues and trigger these emotions and complications helps me do this. Some of my fellow doctors struggle even more than me, especially in war time, because they haven’t had this opportunity for self-reflection.
This may be difficult for Americans to understand. The first time I came to the United States was as a high school exchange student at 15 years old. I spent a whole school year in Traverse City, Michigan. When asked, I introduced myself as I always do, as a Palestinian. People would ask:
So where are you from?
Where is that?
Have you heard of Israel?
Well, it’s kind of the same place.
The year went on with me trying to find an answer without forgetting who I am, and I felt the need for a place to finally address these questions, not only in my head, not only one-sided, not alone.
Then I heard about Hands of Peace, from a Palestinian friend from the West Bank, and it sounded like an interesting idea. But then I asked myself why travel halfway around the world to speak to people who I can simply speak to back home. But it wasn’t that simple. And Hands of Peace made it possible.
Being a doctor allows me to really connect with people on a deeply personal level, not just see the disease but see the person. During my work day I can use the tools I learned in Hands of Peace and after to listen and understand what my patients are trying to say and why. This is the only way that I can really help people, as a doctor and in my life.
During the summer of Hands of Peace I learned that it is possible to sit across from someone who is different, who thinks and believes differently, and not only ask the hard questions but hear the hard questions as well. Hands of Peace gave me the space to do that, to push myself out of my comfort zone.
I remember feeling the need to make one side understand the other because I was the only one who lived with both sides. Sometimes I couldn’t speak about what I wanted or needed but was trying to make both sides understand each other. I felt that I really needed to listen to both sides and not just want others to understand me. I needed to understand them fully to help others understand them. It was really hard for me to help a Palestinian understand what one of the Jewish Israelis was saying, taking my frustration aside so I could listen to help others to understand.
After that summer, I just wanted more. So I went on looking for opportunities to have this interaction with others, to listen, to think, to feel, to cry and be angry, and to sit back and see, actually see people for who they are. One of the programs I found was called Building Bridges to Peace, which looked at other issues such as gender identify, religious beliefs and others and gave me tools to ask the questions to identify myself, not just as a Palestinian but as a woman, as an Arab woman. Having these tools helped me throughout the years, even in my career as a doctor. being a doctor allows me to really connect with people on a deeply personal level, not just see the disease but see the person. During my work day I can use the tools I learned in Hands of Peace and after to listen and understand what my patients are trying to say and why. This is the only way that I can really help people, as a doctor and in my life. In my community, people have different perspectives on this subject. Some say “We live in Israel and that’s it, we have a good life and we don’t care about what’s happening in the West Bank.” And there are others who are still trying to stay connected to the Palestinians in the West Bank — because what happens to them affects us. For me, it’s different. I try to actually understand both sides, but people question why I care and what difference it will make.
The challenges are even in my own family. One of my sisters doesn’t want to know what’s going on because she feels powerless to change anything. My father, who has experienced so much, believes that letting yourself acknowledge that the current situation is not OK is important in and of itself. Just refusing to accept the way things are is enough for me somedays.
10 years later, and here I am, looking back to my journey, I think it wouldn’t have been possible for me to do all that this way if it wasn’t for Hands of Peace. I look at my patients and they are from different backgrounds, different identities, different religions, speak different languages, some that I don’t even understand, but then for me, they’re not different at all, they’re all my patients and to help them go through whatever they’re dealing with right now is my responsibility. And it is this feeling that was worth all the times I was afraid to reach out, and to finally be able to connect with people around me without canceling anyone’s identity, mine or the other.