A chance remark made by one of my fellow-pupils in the weekly German-language class I attend in my neighbourhood retirees’ club aroused my curiosity. Thus I learned about the activities of a group of Israelis who have made it their mission to assist Palestinians whose children require advanced medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. Like the other members of the volunteer organization known as Humans Without Borders (HWB), two or three times a week my fellow-pupil, Tuvia, who today looks more like a geriatric hippie than the bank manager he once was, goes to one of the military checkpoints around Jerusalem (e.g., Kalandia or Bethlehem), picks up a Palestinian child, with one or two accompanying parents, and drives them to one of the Israeli hospitals where they are treated for one of the various diseases that afflict the young Palestinian population. Apparently, because of the high rate of intermarriage in Arab families the proportion of children suffering from renal diseases is particularly great. The hospitals involved in the Jerusalem area are Hadassah, Sha’arei Tzedek and Augusta Victoria, and on an average day there are some twenty or thirty journeys to and from hospitals.
Thus, a child can undergo dialysis or chemotherapy, treatments which are not always available in the Palestinian hospitals. Sometimes they recover and sometimes they do not, and the cases which are unsuccessful are invariably very distressing for all concerned, including the Israeli drivers, who develop an attachment to ‘their’ clients and their families. Tuvia proudly showed me a photo he had been sent of a baby born to a Palestinian family after the death of the child he had been driving to and from hospital for some time. Tuvia has a B.A. in Arabic language and literature from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, so communicating with his ‘clients’ is not difficult. In most cases the families know basic Hebrew, and can thus overcome the language barrier.
Naturally, a project of this kind involves considerable organization and coordination. When the association was originally founded in 2002 by Canadian immigrant Larry Lester the coordination on the Palestinian side was implemented by Gamila Yafit Biso. Today, however, all the arrangements are made by means of various messaging apps. HWB is a non-government, non-political charitable organisation, and has some 200 volunteers from all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society as well as from the world community. The costs of medical treatment are paid by the Palestinian Authority.
In addition to transporting Palestinian children in need of advanced medical treatment in Israeli hospitals, the key aims of the organization are to visit and support the children and family members during hospital treatment, secure medical devices for use by the children in their homes and provide practical support to these families and communities in their daily lives. A similar organization is based in the Tel Aviv area, with many more volunteers, who are often called upon to collect children from the Erez crossing to Gaza and bring them to hospitals in Israel.
HWB also organizes fun days and picnics for the children and their families, whether as a day on the beach or outing to a swimming pool, with food and entertainment laid on. HWB believes that it is every child’s right to grow and develop in a caring and supportive environment, and is committed to enhancing the safety and well-being of Palestinian children and their communities. By promoting direct, friendly contact between Palestinians and Israelis, and through its efforts to brighten the lives of the children and ease the anxiety of their parents, the organisation contributes to the fostering of greater mutual respect between the two sections of the population. The organization is a recognized charity, and donations may be made through the New Israel Fund.
(This article first appeared in the August 2019 edition of the AJR Journal)