‘Every trip is a small peace for an hour’

‘Every trip is a small peace for an hour’

Around 2700 Palestinian patients are driven to Israeli hospitals every year by members of the 'Road to Recovery' group, breaking physical and language barriers.

Six-year-old cancer patient Adam Abu al-Rob at home in the village of Jalbun, east of Jenin, West Bank, in May. Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP
Six-year-old cancer patient Adam Abu al-Rob at home in the village of Jalbun, east of Jenin, West Bank, in May. Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP

(AFP, TIMES OF ISRAEL) – As dawn broke over the West Bank, Mamoun Abu al-Rob and his son crossed into Israel, where a volunteer was waiting to take them to a hospital.

Past the Rehan crossing in the northern West Bank, where Palestinian workers were passing through a dimly lit corridor, Abu al-Rob walked towards Yael Noy’s car as his six-year-old son, Adam, dozed in his arms.

Their destination was a hospital near Tel Aviv, where Adam was to receive follow-up treatment after suffering from eye cancer.

He is one of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip crossing annually into Israel for medical treatment unavailable in their impoverished home territories.

For Palestinians from the West Bank like Abu al-Rob, the Palestinian Authority pays for these treatments, but does not cover the cost of transportation to and from hospitals, which can be prohibitive for many families.

Road to Recovery, an Israeli group established in 2010 that Noy now heads, takes Palestinians, mostly children, from West Bank and Gaza crossing points to hospitals inside Israel and back.

Today it boasts some 1000 active members helping some 2700 patients annually.

“There’s no one like Yael,” said 40-year-old Abu al-Rob in Hebrew, which he picked up working on Israeli construction sites. “She’s always happy, it fills my heart.”

‘Our neighbours’

Adam, who lost an eye due to cancer, fell asleep snuggled up to his father in the back of Noy’s car.

The volunteer smiled at her passengers through the rearview mirror and exchanged a few words with Abu al-Rob.

“Adam’s mother, Sabah, usually accompanies him. She doesn’t speak Hebrew, and I don’t speak Arabic. So we speak the language of the heart,” she said.

“This is an opportunity for all the volunteers to meet Palestinians,” added Noy. “We do not know them, we never meet them. We have an entire population that lives next to us, they are our neighbours.”

Israel has been controlling the West Bank – now home to some three million Palestinians – since winning it from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. In the same war, it also seized the Gaza Strip from Egypt, which it has since withdrawn its civilians from.

Last year, Israel issued entry permits for more than 110,000 medical visits for West Bank residents, according to COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body overseeing civilian affairs in the West Bank.

More than 17,000 such papers were issued during the same period to Palestinians from Gaza, where 2.3 million people live under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed to prevent the armament of the terror group Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup in 2007.

Numerous Palestinians remain unable to access treatment in Israel, due to permit denials by Israel or Palestinian authorities refusing to pay for treatment.

‘Small peace’

Noy’s car sped towards the hospital, down a highway that runs alongside the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank.

“I couldn’t live here without doing something,” she said. “We live in such a complex and difficult reality. This is a tiny gesture I do in order to face this reality.”

Not all volunteers share Noy’s objection to Israel’s military rule, she stressed, noting they include “settlers, religious people and right-wingers”.

One of them, 72-year-old retired army officer Noam Ben Zvi, said, “The war with the Arabs will continue.”

This hasn’t prevented him from transporting a girl for years from a checkpoint to a Jerusalem hospital, waiting for hours as she is treated before driving her back nearly 150km to the northern West Bank crossing point.

“I love Marie and her father. I don’t want them to wait for hours at the hospital,” Ben Zvi explained.

The patient transfers are coordinated on the Palestinian side by Naem Abu Yussef, 57. He lives in a village near Qalqilya in the northern West Bank, an area of frequent clashes with Israeli forces.

“When I heard what Road to Recovery was doing, I couldn’t believe that [Israeli] Jews could do things like that,” he said.

Recalling the months-long detention without charges of two of his sons, Abu Yussef added, “People here often only know Israel by the soldiers raiding homes at night, the occupation, fear, hatred and revenge.”

Road to Recovery was born after Palestinians, belonging to an inter-communal group of families bereaved by the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, asked for help.

For founder Yuval Roth, “The end of the conflict can only come from a political agreement. But in the current reality, every trip like this is a small peace for an hour.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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