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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 10:40 GMT
Gaza: Life without borders
Dr Izzeldeen Abuelaish
Dr Izzeldeen makes the daily crossing home

Dr Izzeldeen Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor who delivers Israeli babies. Hagit Ra'anan is a Jewish war widow who organises life-saving medical treatment for children from the Gaza Strip.

The two have become allies. Lucy Ash asks if their work is a tiny sign of hope amidst the tanks and the bombs.

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The people waiting in the corridor desperately want children - more than anything else on earth. They are putting their faith in the hands of the IVF expert - a swarthy man in a white coat with a big smile.

What they do not know is that he is a Palestinian - one of the enemy.

The Palestinian Doctor

Dr Izzeldeen is unique. He works in Israel, delivering Jewish babies on the country's busiest maternity ward but he lives in the biggest refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

His home, in the Jabalya camp, is only 40 minutes drive from the Soroka University Hospital in Beersheva but it might as well be on another planet.

As a doctor, Dr Izzeldeen wants to help as many women as possible give birth but as a Palestinian his allegiances are torn.

After a few minutes, a couple emerge from his consulting room - a freckled woman and her square-jawed husband who happens to be a professional Israeli soldier.

Maybe these Israeli babies will grow up to become doctors not soldiers
Dr Izzeldeen

When they discover where the doctor comes from, the husband looks as if he has been punched in the stomach. The idea that a Palestinian has just conducted an intimate examination of his wife leaves him speechless.

She too is incredulous. "Doesn't he hate us? I think the Arabs hate us even more than we hate them."

Elusive peace

Peace now seems more elusive than ever. But the bloody cycle of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian suicide bomb attacks has only made Dr Izzeldeen more determined to bring the two sides together.

"We have to show Israelis that we too can be educated and civilised. One day we'll all have to live together."

"What he is doing is unique and it should be very highly praised," says Gad Potashnik, the professor in charge of the IVF unit. "He is like a magical, secret bridge between Israelis and Palestinians."

But as Israel and Palestine move closer and closer to all out war, it is becoming harder for Dr Izzeldeen, practically and psychologically, to sustain this double life.

With every passing day there are more humiliating security checks, more suspicion and more pressure on his goodwill.

He says he just wants to get on with his job and leave politics behind at the checkpoint. But the politics come bursting into the Soroka Hospital straight through the doors of the emergency department.

Many of the victims are Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. There are 7000 of them surrounded by more than a million Palestinians. They live behind sandbags and barbed wire, protected by the Israeli army.

Shootings happen daily. Almost all the goodwill from the era of the Oslo peace accords has evaporated.

Yet there are Israelis who still hope they can improve things through personal contact.

The Jewish widow

Hagit Ra'anan is an unlikely peace activist. She was raised in a right-wing family and her father was a leader of the Jewish underground in the 1940s. Her husband was killed by Palestinian fighters in Lebanon.

But terrible personal suffering has only convinced her that more must be done to build trust between enemies.

She began by taking groups of Israelis into Gaza to meet local Palestinians. Dr Izzeldeen was the go-between for these tours and helped introduce the Jewish visitors to his friends and family.

Now, such contact is not possible. The Gaza Strip has been closed to Israelis since the new Intifada began in September 2000.

Hagit now devotes her energies to organising urgent medical treatment for Palestinian children.

Despite her close friendship with Dr Izeldeen, it is not unusual for them to argue on the phone.

Stranded in Gaza

With the border sealed, Gaza has become a vast open air jail or as locals call it, the "Big Cage." Most of the 100,000 Palestinians who used to have jobs in Israel can no longer get to work.

They (the Palestinians) cannot see any future for themselves - they feel their lives are useless
Dr Izzeldeen

Dr Izeldeen takes me through the filthy, narrow streets of the Jabalya camp to his family home, where he was born and where he has spent most of his life.

It's a breezeblock structure with a sheep pen on one side and a chicken coop on the roof.

His elderly mother Dalal is lying on a mattress on the concrete floor. In a croaky voice she tells me that when she first arrived as a refugee in 1948, she thought it would be temporary.

In a room next door Dr Izzeldeen's unemployed cousins are smoking and watching television.

It is not long before Dr Izzeldeen hurries off to teach some medical students who should be studying in Jerusalem but are now stranded in Gaza, unable to get to their classes.

After the lesson, one of the bolder students attacks him. "Doctor, I respect you very much but how can you help the Israelis when they are bombing and shooting at us? It makes me angry - very, very angry." She sounds close to tears.

I can not help asking if he ever worries about helping to deliver a new generation of Israeli occupiers.

"Maybe these Israeli babies will grow up to become doctors, not soldiers," he retorts.

And what about the violence from his own people? He shrugs his shoulders. "They cannot see any future for themselves - they feel their lives are useless. And then if one goes crazy and wants to become a suicide bomber, nobody will prevent him. They'll call him a hero. But in the end things will only get worse."

A Palestinian doctor without borders: Thursday 13 December 2001 at 1100 on BBC Radio Four

Reporter: Lucy Ash
Producer: Hugh Levinson
Editor: Maria Balinska


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SEE ALSO:
Fear and loathing in Gaza
05 Dec 01  |  Middle East
Gaza families bear brunt of hostilities
03 Oct 01  |  Middle East


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