Dr. Yaacov (Cobi) Assaf, Head of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Hadassah Hospital-Ein Kerem, participated in a powerful panel discussion on “The Role of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in Promoting Peace in the Middle East” at the United Nations on September 26. The HMO-Palestinian-American trilateral program he spoke about, entitled “Peace Through Health: Partnership in Emergency Medicine,” has been quietly in effect for three years. But as Dr. Assaf explained, he and his partners wanted to wait until they had a success story to tell before publicizing the project.
Dr. Assaf shared the podium with his project partners, Dr. Mark A. Davis, Director of the Institute of International Emergency Medicine and Health at America’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, Chief Executive Officer of Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. This groundbreaking cooperative venture, which involves training participants to upgrade their capabilities in emergency medicine, collaborating on reducing domestic violence, and establishing a joint Israeli-Palestinian toxicological consultation center, is funded by the United States Department of State.
To date, about 300 Israeli, Palestinian, and American physicians and nurses have already received training and the collaboration has sparked a network of contacts among Israelis and Palestinians. Jointly, the participants developed curriculum and discussed teaching methods and goals, as well as procedural review, checks and balances, and budget. As Dr. Assaf noted, in his very personal presentation, “What is most important is the ability to talk to each other as neighbors and to build relationships.” Several times during the forum, Dr. Assaf referred warmly to his friendship with Dr. Nasser. Uniquely initiated during the second intifada, Dr. Nasser related, the project is “a story of success despite political conflict and escalating violence.” Through the Peace Through Health program, he said, “We are using health to affect politics.” He further explained: “There is a culture of peace
building and I think this is a very important momentum because we’ve always been stigmatized by the culture of violence.” As Dr. Davis, initiator of the program, stated: “To empower politicians to make changes, there has to be change on the ground first.” And that is what this partnership is about. The goal, Assaf commented, is to build “humanitarian infrastructure.” By giving civilians an answer to their daily lives, we create “civilian momentum.” “Medicine,” he said, “is one of the best bridges over the gaps in this conflict.” The influencial forum, which raised the awareness of many liaisons to NGOs about the existence of successful partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians, was sponsored by the United States Mission to the United Nations, Office of Press and Public Diplomacy. Also participating on this panel were two other groups working toward building a culture of peace in the Middle East: The Seeds of Peace, which, through dialogue and shared camping experiences, inspires youth with the idea of peaceful living between Palestinians and Israelis; and Friends of the Earth Middle East, through which Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians work together to protect their shared water resources and develop a regional environmental agenda.