Recent events in Canada and the US have signalled the rise of Project Rozana as a global healthcare initiative. From a standing start four years ago, Project Rozana has proven that healthcare, which is the only area of civil society where people meet on such a broad scale and on equal terms through mutual respect, can build bridges to peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Project Rozana Canada has filed an application for charitable status and the hope is that this will be successful sometime in the first half of 2018. At the same time, its committee is pushing ahead with fundraising efforts by developing important relationships with the Anglican Church (via the Primates World Development Fund) and World Vision Canada.

In terms of the latter, a joint submission is being prepared to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs for the funding of proposed training programs for Palestinian undergraduates and physicians in Israeli hospitals. This is one of a number of funding initiatives being proposed by the committee.

Project Rozana USA is being advanced by an Organising Committee set up by Ameinu. The Committee is chaired by Kenneth Bob, President of Ameinu and a well-respected leader in the American Jewish community. Ken has already secured US$170,000 for Project Rozana with the funds being applied to our West Bank expansion program for Road to Recovery, the medical students rotation program and to a proposed Project Rozana speaking and fundraising tour of the US and Canada.

An application is being submitted to register Project Rozana USA as a charity; in the meantime, the Board has announced plans to launch a fundraising campaign at the end of January, 2018. It will include a speaking tour of NY, Washington, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco and LA by a panel of eminent Israeli and Palestinian medical specialists closely connected to the Project Rozana story.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the seeds for Project Rozana were sown in Melbourne. It began in 2013 as an idea, not all that different to random thoughts discussed over a cup of tea by people who are dedicated to making a difference to the lives of other people they’re unlikely to ever meet.

We were already working in the ‘space’, that being Israel’s healthcare industry; specifically with an organisation that has been the temporal and spiritual leader of reconciliation between Jews, Christians and Muslims, be they Israelis or Palestinian, for well over 100 years.

Hadassah Hospital is the template for reconciliation through health. It kept its faith through good times and bad, clinging ever proudly to the example set by its founder, Henrietta Szold (pictured right). When times were good, she was a shining light for people of continuing generations who were passionate in their resolve to treat the ‘other’ as their own. When times were bad, her light shone even more brightly but as a beacon that never failed to cut through the fog that can too easily obscure compassion and reason.

It was Ron Finkel AM, President of Hadassah Australia, and more recently, as Chair of Project Rozana International and its Australian affiliate, who codified the idea of an organisation dedicated to leveraging Israeli excellence in health for the benefit of the Palestinian people. Ron is pictured above with a Road to Recovery volunteer.

What prompted this conversation, this codification of random thoughts, was a story. Central to that story was a four year old Palestinian girl, Rozana Abu Ghannam. Her near death experience, dramatic by any measure, was more pointed in the telling by the actions of her mother, Maysa, who insisted her child be taken to Hadassah. The trip would, under other circumstances, be a short distance by road. But for a child clinging to life, it was potentially a bridge too far given the reality of the security checkpoints that needed to be crossed.

Ron explained how Maysa, having declined the health services provided in the West Bank, raised an uncomfortable truth for Israelis and Palestinians. That truth focused on the glaring differences in the standard of health care between the two communities, despite their physical closeness. It was time to act.

So we chose to act over a cup of tea. It was enough that Rozana was alive because of her mother’s fierce determination to put the life and wellbeing of her child on the line. No surprises if the story of Abraham, Isaac and faith comes to mind. Now it was time to level the playing field, to expose to a wider audience the willingness of the Israeli healthcare system and its practitioners to provide practical support to their equally willing Palestinian colleagues.

Project Rozana didn’t bring the sides together or compel the Israelis to act. Nor did it bang heads in the Palestinian health system to accept an offer of help. The other truth is that the closeness of the people involved has been long-standing, often under the radar where it’s safer to operate.

What Project Rozana did was to open the curtain on an area of society that has for too long been closed because the shrill, uninformed voices of hate that treat any form of coexistence as a stunt or worse. What they failed to understand is that the idea of universal healthcare without preconditions was first articulated and then acted on by Ms Szold at the turn of last century, well before the establishment of the State of Israel. What Ron and his small team did was to provide a pathway to better health outcomes based on three very practical pillars:

  • Training of Palestinian doctors, nurses and therapists at Hadassah and other Israeli hospitals before returning to build the health capacity of their own communities in the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Transport Palestinians, mainly children, from the checkpoints on the border of Gaza and the West Bank to health services in Israel. The cost of a taxi fare can be prohibitive for the average Palestinian family, often equivalent to a day’s wage or more. The free service provided by respected Israeli NGO, Road to Recovery, is literally a lifeline for these children, especially those with chronic illness requiring repeat hospital admissions.
  • Treatment of critically-ill Palestinian children in Israeli hospitals when funding from the Palestinian Authority has been exhausted, and funding to assist children from centres of conflict in the region to receive treatment in Israel. The most pressing cases at the moment are the children affected by the Syrian civil war.

Four years on from the launch of Project Rozana in Australia, organisations in Canada and the USA have started their journey towards affiliation. In late August, Ron returned from meetings in both countries where he experienced…

…a light bulb moment that confirmed in my mind the robust support for the principles that underline Project Rozana’s outreach to Israelis and Palestinians, specifically through health. This has taken on a life of its own, and to see people of goodwill whose only agenda is to see positive change in the health and welfare of people has been extraordinarily fulfilling for me.

Fairness and equity

No matter how you look at it, the health industry is weighted dramatically towards Israel. This wasn’t through any form of social or political engineering, but by decisions made well before the Zionist dream took hold, and wholly consistent with the Jewish religious commitment to Tikkun Olam (a concept of Mishnaic law about acts of kindness that are necessary to repair the world).

Maysa should never have been placed in a position of having to choose between healthcare systems, but the reality is that one of those systems is significantly more advanced than the other.

Project Rozana has no interest in taking sides, apportioning blame or making any kind of value judgement. What it’s committed to doing is setting the framework for a bi-national system driven by two near neighbours who each have certain skill sets that will be valuable to the other.

It will take time, goodwill from people who are focused on a longer-term vision unencumbered by geopolitics, and a great many physical, human and financial resources.

Those resources are already available in abundance and that’s where Project Rozana can play a part. As the organisation grows and extends its reach into countries that currently don’t host the organisation, it will tap into larger networks and their funding streams.

In time, Project Rozana will be an even greater force for good than it currently is.

Underpinning its ethos is the example set more than 100 years ago by Henrietta Szold. She believed in the right for everyone to receive timely, world-first health care, irrespective of their gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, politics or financial status. She argued for it, she fought for it and she didn’t stop in her quest to make it happen. Nor will we.

Michael Krape, a member of the Project Rozana Australia Board.