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An Island Of Sanity

Jewish Medical Center Treats Arabs And Jews Without The Animosity

In Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants are learning to live with each other. In South Africa, blacks and whites together are building a new nation.

In Israel, Arabs and Jews are as far apart as ever and seem determined to go on killing each other until the end of time. But there is an island of sanity in this sea of madness.

It's Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center and it's one of the only places in the region where it doesn't matter if you're an Israeli or a Palestinian. Correspondent Bob Simon reports.

One morning, a young Jewish woman was brought in to Hadassah - a settler who'd been shot in her car by a terrorist. She was seven months pregnant, and the doctors saved her and her baby.

Minutes later, doctors were called to the intensive care unit to treat - not an Israeli - but an alleged Palestinian arms dealer who'd been shot by Israeli soldiers.

"I am personally inviting you to see what treatment these two patients are receiving. And if you would find any, any discrimination, let me know," says Dr. Avi Rivkind, a surgeon and head of the Hadassah trauma unit. "Here, life means something."

Hadassah has been in the business of saving lives for 90 years. In 1913, an organization of American Jewish women called Hadassah sent a couple of nurses to Jerusalem to open up some clinics, which grew over the decades into the Hadassah Medical Center. It's still owned and funded by the same group of American women, and it treats nearly a million patients a year now.

But its guiding principle hasn't changed. Medicine, the motto goes, is a bridge to peace, and every patient gets equal treatment here.

The hospital is one of the few places left in Israel where you still see Jews and Arabs together. There may be no greater equalizer than a waiting room. Throughout Hadassah, you'll see Jews helping Arabs, and Arabs helping Jews. In fact, you'd never know there was a war going on if you didn't see so many patients with shrapnel wounds and blast injuries.

In most wars, doctors and nurses go to the battlefield. Here, the battlefield has come to them and it's right outside. This hospital has probably in the last three years become more experienced in treating terror victims than any hospital in the world.

"Unfortunately true. We treated here at Hadassah about 50 percent of all the casualties all over Israel," says Dr. Shlomo Mor Yosef, hospital director.

When there is a suicide attack, like a recent bus bombing in Jerusalem, most of the really serious cases end up at Hadassah because of its trauma unit. It is the most sophisticated in Israel, perhaps in the world, when it comes to treating terror victims like Hannah Nathanson, who'd been on the bus with her children. One of them was still missing.

"I was with three daughters. They told me they didn't find one of them. I don't know where she is. I'm her mom, and the pain is indescribable," says Nathanson, who soon found out that her daughter was dead.

Near Hannah in the same emergency room was an Arab victim from the same attack. Yasir Herbawee was driving the bus behind the one that exploded, and like so many people near a blast, his eardrums had been shattered.

Does Rivkind ever get used to seeing these people come in?

"No. No. I'm telling you, you cannot be used to it. I'm all the time emotionally involved," he says. "When something happens, you don't have to call anybody. Everybody is here. Everybody is coming to this hospital."

Rivkind was at the hospital the night a patient named Hassan Salame was brought in with critical gunshot wounds. Salame was a Hamas leader and the mastermind of a series of bus bombings that killed 45 Israelis.

Simon asked Rivkind if looking at Salame and knowing what he had done wasn't any different than treating another patient.

"You know what? In the opposite," says Rivkind. "I want to prove him that when you come to an Israeli Jewish doctor, you receive the best treatment in the world. To show them we are human beings."

It's a message he says he hopes Salame's Palestinian followers have digested: "They know that Hassan Salame the hero was tried to be killed by Israeli soldiers and was saved by Israeli doctor. I don't have any problem with it."

No problem. That's almost become the motto of the people who work at Hadassah. But does it really work that way? Not according to Yosef, who sees what has happened to his staff since the war began.

"They shout more. They are in, not in easy and comfortable way," says Yosef. "We see change in their behavior around the hospital … No question about it."

And you see amazing scenes as well. For example, one patient, Palestinian journalist Ahmed Jadlallah, was surrounded by young, religious Israelis who were watching Jadlallah's videotape. The tape showed Jadlallah on the ground just after he'd been shelled by an Israeli tank in Gaza.

He was brought to Hadassah where he woke up in a room with strange bedfellows: an Israeli soldier, a Jewish right wing settler, an American religious Jew who'd broken his leg, and another Palestinian from Bethlehem.

"Everybody looked at each other. We don't speak with each other. Nothing," says Jadlallah. "Then I start to speak. You know, like, 'Hi how are you? What happened to you?' You know, like with the soldier first. The mother of the soldier and the father of the soldier were very nice."

And, he says, the Jewish settler brought him tea.

"You are not in Israel, you are not in Palestine, inside the hospital," says Jadlallah.

Most of the patients at Hadassah's two hospitals in Jerusalem aren't terror victims -- they are simply people who need treatment. Some of the Arab patients even come from nearby countries.

"We have wealthy Arabs who are looking for the excellent treatment here at Hadassah. They don't want to be known," says Yosef.

The staff is also a mixture of Jews and Arabs. Dr. Bisher Abu Marzouqa is a pediatric heart surgeon from the West Bank who came to Hadassah a year ago to work with Dr. Eli Milgalter, a Jew. They teamed up to make heart surgery available to Palestinian children who otherwise couldn't afford it. Their partnership would be virtually unthinkable anywhere else in the Middle East.

"From the first day, we didn't have to say one unnecessary word. We think alike, and we act alike and we, it's like we've been working together 20 years," says Milgalter.

"We work in a very harmonic way," adds Marzouqa. "I think that we have no difficulties."

Marzouqa may have no difficulties working at Hadassah, but he does have difficulties getting to work. He lives on the West Bank, in Palestinian territory, and he has to go through an Israeli Army checkpoint to get to the hospital. That can take hours.

But together, Milgalter and Marzouga have operated on nearly 100 Palestinian kids.

"We're not politicians. But there may be, the peace can start from just this little cooperation on a human basis, and we can go from there," says Milgalter.

However, Dr. Arieh Eldad, who headed Hadassah's burn unit until earlier this year, before being elected to the Israeli Parliament, doesn't think it's that easy. "I think it's an illusion to believe that this will build a 'bridge to peace,'" he says. "I knew that the problem will not be solved by patching these patients, but by preventing the war."

Eldad is a member of a right wing party that wants to kick out two million Palestinians from the occupied territories. He believes this, even though he, as a physician at Hadassah, has treated and saved the lives of Palestinian tourists.

But he admits that his reaction would be very different if he encountered a Palestinian terrorist in the street. "I would shoot him to death. I would try to kill him. I'm carrying a gun with me," says Eldad. "If he's a terrorist."

Hadassah's medical staff is asked to leave their politics at the door, but it's not so easy for the patients, especially victims of terror attacks like Arnaud Harenstein. He's been coming to Hadassah for over a year for physical therapy, ever since a Palestinian gunman shot him
in his driveway.

While Harenstein lay bleeding in the car, the gunman shot and killed his wife, who had run out of the house when she heard the noise. He was taken by helicopter to the Hadassah Medical Center.

"Three times my blood pressure was so down that I was dead. Clinical death. Thanks to Hadassah, they succeed to save my life," says Harenstein, who credits Hadassah with saving his life and giving his daughters their father back.

He also credits the hospital with changing his attitude: "A year before I would tell you I think that - kill all the Arabs. They are all animals."

But that changed as he worked with Arab therapists and got to know Arab patients. "I begin to talk with Arab person. And to realize again that, like I knew before, he's a human being like me," says Harenstein. "He's not the one that pulled the trigger. Why to be angry with him?"

"This is what we try to show to society, that it's possible to live together," says Yosef. "I'm not naive. It's not going to be solved soon. But I think it can show the way for the future."

Since we left Hadassah, the hospital has treated more than 30 victims of political violence – both Jews and Arabs.