Amid the Killing, E.R. is an Oasis

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WHERE COEXISTENCE WORKS: Palestinian doctor Rawand Ratrout tends to Israeli Ludmila Lekior, who was badly wounded in last week’s bus bombing in Jerusalem

The 18-year-old girl screamed in agony as the E.R. technician carried her out of the ambulance. Her arms and legs were fractured, her spleen and lungs damaged. Rawand Ratrout, a Palestinian anesthesiologist, inserted intravenous drips into the girl's smoke-blackened arm. She ordered a nurse to inject the patient with a muscle relaxant while the technician, Mohammed Assaly, checked the girl's ventilator, careful not to touch her face, which was burned raw and bloody. "I always imagine what would happen if I were this victim," says Ratrout. In this case, that required more imagination than usual. The young patient was not a Palestinian

compatriot but rather an Israeli, Ludmilla Lekior, a victim of the Hamas suicide bomber who killed 17 in a bus attack in central Jerusalem last week. Lekior, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine nine months ago and was studying Hebrew, was among the 60 wounded in the attack who were brought to Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital.

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At Hadassah, Jews save Arabs and Arabs save Jews. Though the hospital treats and employs mostly Jewish Israelis, Ratrout is one of 10 Palestinian doctors who work at Hadassah's two facilities, one in the Ein Kerem neighborhood (Ratrout's branch) and the other on Mount Scopus. What's more, about 10% of the staff are Arab residents of Israel, and Arab patients and their visitors can be seen in the halls. Though Hadassah Ein Kerem has handled more victims of terrorist attacks than any other Israeli hospital, it stands as a model of integration in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. As politicians continually fail to find compromises for peace that will stick, Hadassah's mixed staff — operating under terrible pressure — manages to make coexistence work. "I've seen our Palestinian victims, and I've seen Israelis after suicide bombs," Ratrout says. "I don't differentiate between them. Each time, I think, How can this happen?"

She put this question to Assaly as they worked side by side piecing victims back together last week. Assaly, who has tended patients in the aftermath of more than 20 major terrorist attacks, knew that Ratrout was thinking about President Bush's recent push to revive the peace process, an effort that gave some small degree of hope to Israelis and Palestinians. "It's a catastrophe," Assaly told her, referring to the bombing. "It's supposed to be a time of peace, but all the violence is coming around again."

Palestinian doctors who work at Hadassah face an agonizing choice. Ratrout, who was raised in Nablus, the big Palestinian town in the northern West Bank, first came to the hospital in the 1990s after attending medical school at Baghdad University. Following the onset of Palestinian self-rule, Palestinian health-ministry officials pressured her into working in the West Bank, where there is an acute shortage of trained staff. During the height of fighting a year ago in the West Bank, Ratrout worked for weeks around the clock in a government hospital in Ramallah. But she eventually decided to return to Hadassah, hoping to improve her lifesaving skills by working with the best surgeons in the region. "I had to do this to make something of my career," Ratrout says. "I worked hard for my people, and now I need to do something for myself."

Ratrout's parents nonetheless criticized her for abandoning needy Palestinians to treat Israelis and kept the news of her return to Hadassah from disapproving neighbors in Nablus. Ratrout, who lives in a one-room apartment near the hospital, goes home to see her family only every two weeks, since it takes at least a day to get through the Israeli checkpoints to Nablus, which should be less than an hour's drive from Hadassah. Though Israel promised to ease West Bank roadblocks after President Bush's recent meeting in Jordan with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it took Ratrout two days to get to Nablus last week.

In the bed next to Lekior's in intensive care, Steve Averbach, a victim of an earlier bus bombing, on May 18, watches Seinfeld on a portable television through eyes barely open. Seven people died in that blast, which left Averbach with a spinal-cord injury and lung damage. One of the nurses who cared for him was Naela Haeik, who was born in an Arab village in Israel's Galilee region. She recalls that after surgeons operated on Averbach's spine, she spent four hours settling him into his bed. She hooked the 37-year-old father of four onto a cardiac monitor, a mechanical ventilator and an intravenous drip. It was hard, physical work for her and another nurse, lifting the helpless body of the tall, muscular Averbach, who works as a private weapons instructor. Then she introduced herself. With a name that any Israeli would recognize as Arab, Haeik says this is the moment when 1 in 10 of her Jewish patients recoils from her. "Hello, I am Naela," she said softly. Averbach didn't react, and Haeik simply checked his monitor.

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