We should not be afraid to talk

September 18, 2014 13:01

The ceasefire was still holding when I accompanied Yuval Roth to pick up three Palestinian children in need of medical treatment not available in Gaza.

Road to Recovery (Derech Hachlama) is a non-profit organisation that provides transport for hundreds of Palestinian children suffering from cancer, leukaemia, kidney disease and other life-threatening illnesses. For these children and their families, travel costs to Israeli hospitals are prohibitive, particularly for patients requiring regular treatment.

Yuval Roth, a 60-year-old carpenter, founded the organisation as a way to recover from his own personal tragedy. In 1993, his brother Udi was kidnapped and killed by members of Hamas who were dressed as Orthodox Jews when they offered him a lift in their car.

"I heard an interview on Israeli radio with a man who lost his son in the same way," Roth told me. "After the broadcast, I called him and he told me about the Parents Circle, a group he was establishing to create dialogue between bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families." Roth joined the circle and, one day, a Palestinian member asked for Roth's help in getting his child to hospital. Realising that there were many families with similar needs, Roth set up Road to Recovery - which now has around 500 volunteers transporting hundreds of patients from the Palestinian territories to hospitals in Israel.

The day after picking up the three children from Gaza, we drove into the West Bank to meet some of the Palestinian volunteers. We passed through zone "A" under Palestinian Authority control. On the road, I saw a sign written in Arabic, Hebrew and English: "This road leads to a Palestinian village. The entrance for Israeli citizens is dangerous."

They came together oblivious of heat and sirens

The man who co-ordinates the transport on the Palestinian side invited us to dinner. From his house, we could see the Tel Aviv skyline. He pointed towards the fence that separates the West Bank from Israel and told me that it runs right across his land.

"Those are my olive trees on the other side," he said, "and the law states that, if the land remains untended for three years, it will be confiscated. I get up at 3.30 every morning in order to queue at the checkpoint so I can go to work on a building site to earn money to pay someone to tend my olive trees." There was no anger in his voice. Only resignation.

The volunteers seek to break down the barriers of mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians, transporting Palestinian patients on round-trips from the West Bank and Gaza to hospitals throughout Israel for treatment, hospitalisation and check-ups.

Dalia Golomb, daughter of Haganah founder Eliahu Golomb, is 84, yet she spends much of her time ferrying children from the Palestinian territories to hospitals across Israel. She holds seminars in her home teaching Israelis about the Palestinian people and why there is no need to be afraid of them.

"It works both ways" she said, "when we first pick up a new patient, they look at us in surprise because we don't have horns."

The Parents Circle now has more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian families. Yuval Roth invited me to speak to them at a tent set up in central Tel Aviv. Standing in the spotlight in front of a sign that proclaims in Arabic and Hebrew, "We don't want you here!", I spoke of my experiences in Bosnia and how the people of Mostar suffered in a similar way to those living in Gaza. And I told them how I knew what it was like to be targeted by rockets having been in Israel throughout two wars. The response was very moving. One old man raised his hand and I caught a glimpse of fading numbers tattooed on his arm. Roni, a woman whose son was killed by a sniper, said: "I don't want anyone killed in the name of my child."

These people gathered together at the tent throughout the war, oblivious of the heat and the sirens. Their personal tragedies lend emphasis to a powerful statement: "If we can talk to each other, everyone can."

Sally Becker, known as the Angel of Mostar for her part in helping to save the lives of many children during the 1990s Balkan Wars, is a director of the youth ambassador programme of Children of Peace, a multi-faith charity dedicated to building trust between Israeli and Palestinian children.

September 18, 2014 13:01

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