Everyone knows the Middle East is a crazy place, but sometimes people forget that Israel is part of it. At least, that’s how it would appear from a news item this week in The National, an English-language paper owned by the Abu Dhabi Media company, announcing the establishment of the Middle East chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
“The Middle East group, founded two months ago, is only the fifth AIA chapter outside the US,” the item said. “In addition to the UAE, it covers Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.”
Before I read the list I’d thought, “Here’s an area of endeavor where borders and political conflicts can be laid aside.” But I shouldn’t have been surprised. For most official bodies, Israel is not part of the Middle East. Its soccer teams compete in the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and its Maccabi Electra basketball team is hoping to win the Eurocup.
But borders and boundaries are not always what they seem. Right now Israel is competing in the FINA (short course) World Swimming Championships, held in the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex in Dubai. It’s just 11 months since the assassination in Dubai of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, an act attributed by many to Israel’s Mossad, and Israelis are not so welcome there these days.
According to Israel’s Ha’aretz, Dubai issued visas to the Israelis at the very last moment and tried to play down their presence at the opening ceremony by referring to the team’s country of origin by the abbreviation ISR.
But Noam Zwi, chairman of the Israeli Swimming Association, said that local people had received the team with traditionally warm Arab hospitality, that relations with the Palestinian team were excellent, and that the Israeli swimmers had done well, reaching the finals.
Earlier in the week, however, border crossings were more difficult. The Palestinian Authority had sent 13 firefighters to help extinguish the blaze on Mount Carmel that claimed 43 lives and consumed 12,500 acres of forest, nature reserves, residential areas, and tourist sites. But on Tuesday this week, Israel canceled a ceremony planned to honor the Palestinian firefighters, after some of them were refused permits to cross the border. The Israel Defense Forces attributed the snafu to a “bureaucratic mistake.”
A cross-border story that evokes more hope is that of Dr. Ilana Hammerman, an Israeli translator, and her efforts on behalf of Saja Hamamre, an 18-year-old Palestinian honors student in need of a liver transplant. Hammerman got to know the family when she looked for someone to teach her conversational Arabic; Saja’s mother became the teacher and then a close friend.
Both Saja’s parents were willing to be donors, but the operation would cost $250,000 in Rabin (Beilinson) Hospital, the only medical center in Israel specializing in this type of transplant. Hammerman turned to everyone she knew and asked for help.
Impressed by the response to Hammerman’s efforts, the hospital obtained funds to cover the cost of the operation, and the money that Hammerman had raised was put aside for the medical care Saja would need later on.
This story does not have an end yet. Before the transplant could take place, it turned out that Saja was also suffering from hepatitis C, and everything had to be delayed while she was treated for that disease.
But according to her doctor, Prof. Eytan Mor, there is a 90 percent chance that the transplant will be successful. That, and the way in which her plight drew together ordinary people on both sides of the so-called separation barrier, is cause for some hope in the crazy Middle East.
Text copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.