Agencia AJN .- Within the framework of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, the AJN Agency toured the Medical Center where Jews, Muslims and Christians live together peacefully. “I think Hadassah hospital is the place where you can transmit a message of peace,” said Viktor Kukali, a Palestinian who works in the institution’s operating theater. Viktor has been working in Israel for 18 years at Hadassah hospital.
In the middle of the daily conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, almost like an oasis in the middle of the desert, there is another world, the world of coexistence that happens every day in the Hadassah Medical Center. In the framework of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, the Agency AJN had the opportunity during several days to visit and see Hadassah. Voices, people and stories highlight the unique example that earned Hadassah a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. The nomination was for equality in the provision of medical treatment; for being an exemplary model of cooperation and coexistence, as reflected by the ethnic and religious diversity of its medical staff and patients; and for the perseverance of the Hadassah hospitals in building bridges for peace through their medical activities, despite the Intifada.
The Agencia AJN was privileged to get to know another face of a thriving Israel that makes it the famous Startup Nation: one that embraces science, scientific advances and coexistence between Palestinians, Israelis and Muslims.
Victor Kukali is Palestinian who has worked at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem for 18 years. Our encounter with Victor was casual. It happened in the cafeteria of the fourth basement where the Davidson Tower anti-nuclear attack floor operates in the Ein Kerem building of the hospital. This area was recently adapted and works as an operating theater area. This fourth floor level below ground is the size of a shopping mall: it is huge and there all the operating rooms of the hospital work. It is truly impressive, both in its size and innovative style.
The 13 operating rooms are from 55 to 83 square meters each, depending on their use, and utilize the highest technology for all specialties. It is very interesting to learn that nothing is fixed, that all surgical equipment is mobile. Except for lighting, the rest is stored and removed to a large warehouse called a garage. It is amazing to see the doctors and helpers move the necessary equipment depending on the operation they are going to perform. Of course, this happens because it is an anti-nuclear refuge, which requires a speedy response in the face of an emergency or alarm. The mobile equipment guarantees and facilitates a quick response to make sure that the fourth level below ground is a safe place for the entire hospital population in case of an eventual attack.
The operating rooms have the peculiarity of being huge, with corridors 5 meters wide and everything in sight. Virtually no walls are seen, which allows one to observe everything that is happening in each operation, from minor surgeries to open heart operations or cooperation between robots during surgery, something that Hadassah proudly claims to be the first in the world to do.
Víctor is an operating room orderly, who lives in Beit Lejem (Bethlehem) and has a Palestinian passport. The meeting with the Agency AJN was in the small cafeteria of the waiting room outside the large operating room. There you can see everyone together, the doctors, the patients in recovery, assistants, nurses, orderlies and, most strikingly, the relatives of the patients. The classic small carpets that the Muslims use for their prayers are prominently hung and prepared for use. We saw that two of the four corners diagonally in the room were occupied by two Palestinian families, while another corner of the floor was occupied by an Orthodox Jewish family. Closer to the door, a priest was accompanying a family while two Muslims were kneeling in full prayer. By living that experience, you can feel that Hadassah Hospital is the Noah’s Ark of our time.”I am the first Palestinian to work at the Hadassah hospital,” said Víctor. “I come every day from Beit Lejem and I have a special permit, which I renew every six months, and once a year I must renew my work permit from the Ministry of Health of Israel.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Victor was not convinced he should do the interview, but a colleague of Victor, Esther Perel from Spain, insisted and helped in the presentation. Slowly the dialogue began, with some initial discomfort clearly indicating that Victor was not facing a classic interview. It was not easy for him to tell his story.
“I started in 2000 and today I am 52 years old. I have been an operating room nurse for more than 30 years as I finished nursing school in 1986. It was the only school that belonged to the Ministry of Health of Israel in Ramallah and thanks to that I managed to obtain work here at Hadassah. I did the official examination of the Ministry of Health of Israel in 1986 and worked in the territories until after the Oslo Accords in 1993, “he recalled.
-What was the beginning of this story that ends with you working at Hadassah?
-When I was in the Beit Jala Hospital, I met many Jewish doctors who came for special cases, and that’s when I started to imagine and conceived the idea in my head that I could get to work here. Today for me this is a work advance and the level of work here is better than in the territories.
– To observe you, to see Muslims, Palestinians and Orthodox Jews together here praying for their sick loved ones, makes us think that this is fresh air and a reality different from what we see outside the hospital.
-I think Hadassah hospital is the place where you can transmit a message of peace. It is the place where we can tell everyone “we can work, live and be together”. Initially I was most afraid of how they were going to treat me. But then the months and then years went by and I’ve been here for 18 years.
-How do you observe the attitude of your Palestinian brothers when we see the strong conflict and violence on their part towards Israel?
-It is foolish for anyone to think we have to throw the Jews into the sea, or to believe that we (the Palestinians) have to go and live elsewhere.
-But this coming to work in Israel certainly was not easy for you. To make this decision 18 years ago, you really had to have courage …
-The truth is that when I started I was afraid, there really were problems, there was the Intifada. I remember that for 40 days I could not leave my house, the Israeli tanks had surrounded the area. We were volunteers as a medical corps and we knew that a tank had attacked a vehicle. There was one person with half of the body inside and the other outside and we could not reach it. We wanted to get there, and the tank would not let us pass. We were ordered in Arabic not to continue. 58 minutes had already passed, I counted them on my watch, waiting to assist him. In the end the tank was removed, but the person was already dead when we arrived. This does not mean that with this story I want to transmit hate, but what I say is enough. There are other ways. It is not just about launching missiles and the other side shooting. After all whoever has more weapons will always win.
-Tell me about your family.
-I hoped that for Christmas and Easter that my family would receive authorization to enter Jerusalem so that we can travel together. Recently they received permission, and we are going to be able to walk together through Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Believe me it is not easy to observe Jerusalem from the other side of the fence, which I am totally against, even though I understand that there is a reason why they installed it.
-With so many years of work here in the Hadassah, I suppose you will remember some anecdote to share.
-In 2003, when the Israeli army entered Bethlehem with tanks, I was working here in Hadassah. I remember that an Israeli soldier was admitted together with a Palestinian youth. We received them, and they were placed in adjoining beds 15 and 16, next to each other. The same medical team attended them in Intensive Therapy.
The Israeli soldier was from Beer Sheva (a town in the south of the country), that is far from Jerusalem. As it was not close, his family arrived and stayed here in the hospital. The same happened with the young Palestinian’s family, they also came and stayed, and I remember they brought food. Between both families there was no relationship. Then the Palestinians invited the Jewish family to eat.
They all sat together on the floor, ate together and talked together. Neither family knew that their relatives (the two patients) had confronted each other minutes before as enemies. When I entered and saw that scene, that situation, that image really was very strong for me. They greeted each other and that was important. They distanced themselves, but what I saw there was humanity. Far from war and conflict.
Photo above shows Víctor Kukali with Daniel Berliner, Director of the Agencia AJN
This article was translated from the original Spanish article that was published by the Agencia AJN in April, 2018
To read the original article in Spanish, go to
Watch a video showing Hadassah as a Bridge to Peace