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Israeli volunteers help Palestinians access treatment

Many are unable to travel to hospital, due to permit denials by Israel or refusal by Palestinian authorities to pay for treatment

Israeli volunteers help Palestinians access treatment

Adam Abu al-Rob, a six-year-old Palestinian eye cancer patient, is carried by his father Mamoun at the Rehan checkpoint between Israel and the occupied West Bank, while on their way from the Palestinian village of Jalbun to Shiba Hospital Tel Hashomer near Tel Aviv, on May 22. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 27, 2023 05:38 AM GMT

Updated: June 27, 2023 05:43 AM GMT

As dawn broke over the occupied West Bank, Mamoun Abu al-Rob and his son crossed into Israel, where a volunteer was waiting to take them to a hospital.

Past the Rehan crossing in the northern West Bank, where Palestinian workers were passing through a dimly lit corridor, Abu al-Rob walked towards Yael Noy's car as his six-year-old son, Adam, dozed in his arms.

Their destination was a hospital near Tel Aviv, where Adam was to receive follow-up treatment after suffering from eye cancer.

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He is one of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip crossing annually into Israel for medical treatment unavailable in the impoverished Palestinian territories.

For Palestinians from the West Bank like Abu al-Rob, the Palestinian Authority pays for these treatments, but does not cover the cost of transportation to and from hospitals which can be prohibitive for many families.

Road to Recovery, the Israeli group established in 2010 that Noy now heads, takes Palestinians, mostly children, from West Bank and Gaza crossing points to hospitals inside Israel and back.

Today it boasts some 1,000 active members helping some 2,700 patients annually.

"There's no one like Yael," said 40-year-old Abu al-Rob in Hebrew, which he picked up working on Israeli construction sites. "She's always happy, it fills my heart".

'Our neighbours' 

Adam, who lost an eye due to cancer, fell asleep snuggled up to his father in the back of Noy's car.

The volunteer smiled at her passengers through the rearview mirror and exchanged a few words with Abu al-Rob.

"Adam's mother, Sabah, usually accompanies him. She doesn't speak Hebrew, and I don't speak Arabic. So we speak the language of the heart," she said.

"This is an opportunity for all the volunteers to meet Palestinians," added Noy.

"We do not know them, we never meet them. We have an entire population that lives next to us, they are our neighbours."

Israel has occupied the West Bank -- now home to some three million Palestinians -- since the 1967 Six-Day War, when it also seized the Gaza Strip, the densely populated coastal enclave it has since withdrawn from.

Last year, Israel issued entry permits for more than 110,000 medical visits for West Bank residents, according to COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body overseeing civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories.

More than 17,000 such papers were issued during the same period to Palestinians from Gaza, where 2.3 million people live under an Israeli-led blockade since Islamist movement Hamas rose to power in 2007, which has also obstructed medical supplies.

Numerous Palestinians remain unable to access treatment in Israel, due to permit denials by Israel or Palestinian authorities refusing to pay for treatment.

'Small peace' 

Noy's car sped towards the hospital, down a highway that runs alongside a barrier Israel had built to separate the country from the West Bank.

"I couldn't live here without doing something," she said. "We live in such a complex and difficult reality. This is a tiny gesture I do in order to face this reality."

Not all volunteers share Noy's objection to the Israeli occupation, she stressed, noting they include "settlers, religious people and right-wingers".

One of them, 72-year-old retired army officer Noam Ben Zvi, said "the war with the Arabs will continue".

This hasn't prevented him from transporting a girl for years from a checkpoint to a Jerusalem hospital, waiting for hours as she is treated before driving her back nearly 150 kilometres (90 miles) to the northern West Bank crossing point.

"I love Marie and her father. I don't want them to wait for hours at the hospital," Ben Zvi explained.

The patient transfers are coordinated on the Palestinian side by Naem Abu Yussef, 57. He lives in a village near Qalqilya in the northern West Bank, an area of frequent clashes with Israeli forces.

"When I heard what (Road to Recovery) was doing, I couldn't believe that (Israeli) Jews could do things like that," he said.

Recalling the months-long detention without charges of two of his sons, Abu Yussef added: "People here often only know Israel by the soldiers raiding homes at night, the occupation, fear, hatred and revenge."

Road to Recovery was born after Palestinians, belonging to an inter-communal group of families bereaved by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, asked for help.

For founder Yuval Roth, "the end of the conflict can only come from a political agreement. But in the current reality, every trip like this is a small peace for an hour."


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