Apr 23 2010
There is a cardiac ward in a hospital in Tel Aviv where children have an off-putting sort of serenity. The little ones smile often, but they do so with a wise look that belies their short years.
Some lie on cots near each other, as doctors and nurses check charts and adjust advanced medical equipment. It is busy here. Some of the children sit up on stretchers in the halls, watching, playing with toys or taking spoonfuls of cereal from their parents. In this place, the parents are never far from their offspring.
These kids in this part of the ward are not Jewish. Indeed, none hold Israeli citizenship. Many come from China, Russia, Hungary, Yemen and other nations far from Israel. On closer inspection, you will discover that half of the children being treated here are Palestinians from the West Bank. All of these kids are receiving some of the best medical care available in the world, to heal their broken hearts.
The Save A Child’s Heart program was started by Dr. Ami Cohen, born in Brooklyn. He moved to Israel in 1992 to work at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. Three years later, he was asked to operate on two Ethiopian children suffering from heart disease. With that, the Save a Child's Heart foundation was born. Since then, the center has saved the lives of more than 1100 children.
It is privately funded, though indirectly subsidized by the Israeli state. Skeptical critics of the Israeli state will surely view the entire program as a propaganda exercise. On the other hand, who could argue with a program that saves the lives of sick children?
“Politics is outside this hospital,” says a doctor on the ward. “When children come here, they all receive the same treatment. Of course, there are parents who are bringing their child from some countries and cultures where this would seem complicated, but when a child is sick, everything else is secondary. They do what they have to do.”
Almost all parents would agree, anyway. The doctor seems to lose focus and his smile drops for a moment as he recounts the tale of an Egyptian man who contacted the program's branch office in London. “We were excited because this would be our first child from Egypt, but it turned out that the father who made the inquiries thought we were a British organization.” As soon as he found out it was an Israeli program, he reportedly told the consultant on the phone that he would rather that his child died than be treated by Israelis.
That seems to be an exception to the rule, though. While Egypt and Jordan still have yet to participate in the program, this hospital has treated children from Iraq and other parts of the Arab world.
One part of the ward is reserved for Palestinian children and their parents, which the medical staff have politically-incorrectly nicknamed the occupied territory. Two Palestinian mothers covered up except for their faces in traditional garb dote over their babies who are in recovery. The situation here contrasts sharply with the image that both Palestinians and human rights activists outside Israel keep in mind. “We hope to leave them convinced, or at least confused,” the doctor notes.