Amid the Killing, E.R. is an Oasis

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ILAN MIZRAHI FOR TIME

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

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Averbach, who emigrated from the U.S. at 18, has recovered enough to be able to speak to his family, though he hasn't moved his limbs. His mother Maida, who along with her husband flew in from West Long Branch, N.J., was visibly moved to see Arab nurses like Haeik working so closely with Jewish medical staff members on their son. "Why can't it be like this on the outside too?" she asks.

Hospital employees are not immune to the violence. Ghalab Tawil, 42, a Palestinian from Shuafat, took a job as a janitor at Hadassah so he could be closer to his daughter Iman, 13, during leukemia treatment at the hospital. He died in the explosion that wounded Averbach. Passions ran high after one of Hadassah's doctors, Shmuel Gillis, was shot dead in the West Bank by Palestinians in February 2001. To avoid clashes with victims' families, an Arab social worker usually stationed in the E.R. no longer works there immediately after terrorist attacks. E.R. technician Assaly is also wary of victims' relatives, who often lash out at him on the wards. As he develops Lekior's chest X ray, Assaly, who learned Hebrew from a suicide-bomb victim he treated, recalls stopping at the site of a terrorist attack last year and administering first aid. An Israeli identified him as an Arab and tried to drag him away, he says. Assaly's mother, who was with him then, tells him to keep a low profile around the hospital after a terrorist attack. "When people behave like that because I am an Arab, it makes me mad," he says. "But I don't think about the nationality of the patient."

Whatever their politics, those who work at the hospital have generally risen above the conflict. Until he took a leave of absence to serve in the Israeli Knesset as a representative of a party that advocates the "voluntary transfer" of Palestinians from the West Bank, Arieh Eldad, head of plastic surgery, who used to operate with a loaded pistol in the back pocket of his green scrubs, worked closely with Khaled Abu Ajamia, a Palestinian physician who lives in Hebron. "Outside they are big enemies, but in here they are forced to touch," says hospital director Shlomo Mor-Yosef. Hadassah was founded by the eponymous U.S. Jewish women's organization with the hope that it would be a place where Jews and Arabs worked together — a broad current in early Zionism that eventually was overridden by the more separatist ideas of rival Zionist leaders. Now 20,000 people pass through the hospital daily.

In the child oncology department, toddlers who would never meet outside the hospital play together. This is a city where people, for fear of either attack or arrest, immediately take note of the ethnicity of those around them by examining hair color, hairstyle or skin tone. That makes this department a confusing place. It's impossible at first to distinguish a Jewish child from an Arab one, because the children playing on toy trucks and fitting jigsaw pieces together have lost their hair through chemotherapy. Parents sit on plastic chairs, ultra-Orthodox Jews in black suits and Homburg hats next to Palestinian women in traditional embroidered robes, watching the kids play. Chief nurse Fatma Hussein believes it's not just the outward signs of suffering on the children that increase tolerance among people who would be suspicious of one another beyond the hospital confines. "In this community of the sick, everyone understands what pain is," she says. "Nobody has patience for anybody who would inflict pain on others."

The hospital also has to tend combatants at times. Samer Qawasbeh was one of 40 Palestinian gunmen who took refuge from invading Israeli troops in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity in May last year. During the Israelis' 14-day siege of the church, Qawasbeh was shot in the stomach. By the time he reached Hadassah, his abdomen and bowel were gangrenous and filled with maggots. "He was pretty much dead," says E.R. chief Avi Rivkind, who treated him. After a series of operations that left him with only 12 inches of small intestine, Qawasbeh went home a month ago to his family in Bethlehem. "Thanks to God, Master of the Universe, he came home safe — and thanks to the Israeli doctors who didn't treat him any differently from an Israeli," says his mother Hilweh.

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