Jewish and Arab Israelis come together at hospitals to fight virus

U.S. & World

KAFR QARA, Israel (CNN Newsource) — In hospitals across Israel, the coronavirus has shown an indifference to race, religion, or belief.

The doctors and nurses on the front line share the same impartiality.

In the fight against COVID-19, Arab doctors and nurses have stood side-by-side with their Jewish colleagues. The virus doesn’t care about who’s who. Why, they ask, should they?

“I think that all of us – Jews and Muslims – give what is necessary for every patient regardless of race, religion, and belief and that’s our duty,” said Dr. Jamil Hassan. “We have to do it properly without connection to anything else.”

Hassan is the head of the coronavirus unit at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera, one of many Arab medical professionals in top positions in Israel.

“We are dealing all the time with things we did not know and don’t know,” Hassan said. “This virus in particular – we have never seen a virus that truly spread throughout the entire world, and I think we prepared well in this country.”

The medical unity has created some made-for-social-media moments.

Two religious paramedics, one Jewish and one Muslim, praying side-by-side during a short break.

An Arab doctor bringing a Jewish Torah scroll into a the coronavirus unit for Jews to pray.

A new video shows medical staff in masks as heroes, only to reveal that these doctors and nurses are Arabs, calling them an inseparable part of the state of Israel.

Inherently, that message is political.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frequently targeted Israel’s Arab politicians, calling them supporters of terror.

His nation-state law stripped Arabic of its status as an official language.

And enshrined into law that only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel.

Yet in early April, when Netanyahu needed Arab politicians to pass a $25 billion coronavirus aid package, there was no show of gratitude says Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, himself a doctor.

“It’s politics, it’s racism,” said Tibi, a member of Israel’s Knesset.

Arabs make up about 20% of Israel’s population.

They are 20% of the country’s nurses and nearly half of Israel’s pharmacists, according to the Ministry of Health researcher Nihaya Daoud.

In addition, 17% of the country’s doctors are Arab.

“We have the best physicians in the Israeli hospitals, working together by great staff – both Jews and Arab doctors – and they are struggling in the front line against the coronavirus,” said Tibi.

Many of those doctors come from Kafr Qara, sometimes called the village of doctors.

Hassan Agbaria is the principal of the bilingual Hand in Hand – Bridge over the Wadi school. He says it’s the only place in the world where Jewish students come to an Arab village to study.

“The corona – this crisis – what it did was that it took down the blockages of stereotyping that people would look at someone and see him as if in a box – they would take him out of his box – Hassan is an Arab. Is he a Muslim or a Christian? Is he like this or like this?” said Agbaria.

Some of his former students have become doctors. It’s a field where he says advancement is based on professionalism and little else.

“This is obviously a welcome change,” said Agbaria. “This change didn’t just happen. It came from a change in understanding, both from the Arabs and the Jews. It’s a change of both sides. You can’t have a real change with only one side. It’s a public discourse. It’s a real discourse that says everyone here should be equal.”

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