An Israeli charity that transports sick Palestinians to hospitals in Israel has vowed to continue operating despite seven of its volunteers being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.
Three more of its volunteers were killed in the Hamas attacks of October 7, and others, many of whom live in southern Israel, lost family members.
The war has forced the charity, Road to Recovery, to halt its services to Gazans, but operations remain unaffected in the West Bank.
“We drive about 140 people daily, including the patients and their loved ones, to Israeli hospitals,” Yael Noy, Road to Recovery’s managing director, told the JC.
“We have 16 volunteers every day, driving all over the country. Since the October 7 attacks, Gaza is hermetically closed. We can no longer assist anyone there.”
Unity: Road to Recovery volunteers complete paperwork with Israeli Arab helpers in Haifa (Photo: Road to Recovery)
Noy herself grew up in Kibbutz Alumim, and during the cross-border assault her parents hid in a safe room as terrorists rampaged around them.
“One of our volunteers lost her husband in the October 7 terror attacks. At the funeral, she told me that while she wouldn’t be able to drive for a year, we shouldn’t stop. What we do is too important,” said Noy.
One of the volunteers being held in Gaza is Oded Lifshitz, aged 83, whose wife Yocheved was kidnapped with him but is one of the four hostages since released by Hamas.
“They’d go every week to bring those in need to hospitals, even when they were tired,” their grandson Daniel Lifshitz told the JC. “When they got older and even when the conditions weren’t ideal, they’d still do it and tell us all about it.”
Road to Recovery has been providing its services for 16 years.
Yuval Roth founded the organisation after his brother Udi was killed by Hamas terrorists in 1993. Initially, he found solace in the Parents’ Circle Families Forum, which organises gatherings for Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in the conflict.
“Our message was one of reconciliation. If we, the ones who had lost our beloved, could acknowledge each other’s pain, sit and talk, why couldn’t others?” Roth told the JC.
In 2006, he received a phone call from a Palestinian friend asking for help getting his brother to Rambam Hospital in Haifa. Roth agreed, and his path was set.
Four years later, he received a donation from singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen that helped establish Road to Recovery, which now has 1,300 volunteers. The organisation pays for their petrol and hosts recreational activities for Palestinian patients, mainly children with life-threatening conditions.
“We do more than bringing them from point A to point B. For them it’s a chance to encounter a different reality beyond Israeli settlers and soldiers at checkpoints,” said Roth.
“At first, they were suspicious of us. They thought we were Shabak [Shin Bet, the internal intelligence agency]. Soon enough, these thoughts disappeared and all they saw was human beings ready to help them.”
Roth declined to put the JC in touch with any Palestinians he has helped over fears they could be targeted by Hamas.
Yael Treidel, 58, from Hadera, is a Road to Recovery volunteer in charge of coordinating rides.
“I don’t even have the words to describe the horrific October 7 rampage. But these [sick Palestinian] children are not representatives of Hamas,” Treidel told the JC.
“When the war started, I took a six-year-old girl and her father from the Rehan checkpoint [in northern Israel] to the Sheba Medical Centre [in Tel Aviv]. When we arrived, the kid had this huge smile on her face, and I melted. Her father spoke a little Hebrew. We agreed that the real problem was the people at the top.
“For a minute we escaped the polarisation. We just sat together and had the most normal and heartwarming talk. After that, I felt a little bit more optimistic.”
Ronnie Cohen, a UK-based fundraiser for and donor to Road to Recovery, said: “It is important to spread the news that there are decent people in Israel who give their time every day to drive Palestinians to Israeli hospitals and back to checkpoints.
“They are not known at all in Britain and I see it as my responsibility to let people know that they exist.”