Sunday, June 24, 2007

Palestinians Shoot Me and Jews Treat Me...

What makes these words so incredible is that they were spoken by a 22 year old Palestinian man who had never met an Israeli before the day he was taken to an Israeli hospital with the hope that Jewish doctors could save his life.

Perhaps the most telling line in the whole article was spoken by Aref Suleiman, a young Palestinian who was shot 5 times at point blank range. Suleiman commented, "Palestinians shoot me and Jews treat me. It was supposed to be different."

Shot by their own side, healed by the enemy

By Charles Levinson in Ashkelon, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:55am BST 10/06/2007

In the Gaza Strip's Jab aliya refugee camp, Aref Suleiman was raised on Palestinian struggle against the Jewish state. Today he lies in an Israeli hospital bed, his body riddled with Palestinian bullets, his wounds tended daily by Israeli nurses.

For the 22-year-old Mr Suleiman, who was shot five times point blank by Hamas militants last month during a renewed bout of Palestinian infighting, this is not the Arab-Israeli conflict he learnt about as a child growing up in Gaza's desperate, rubbish-strewn alleys.

"Palestinians shoot me and Jews treat me," he laughs bitterly. "It was supposed to be different."

The Barzilai Hospital sits on a sandy hilltop above the Mediterranean Sea in the southern Israeli port city of Ashkelon. In recent months, five Palestinian rockets have landed in the grassy dunes that encircle it, just six miles from the Gaza Strip.

Barzilai, however, has become a rare bastion of civility in an increasingly hate-filled conflict and a unique meeting ground for two peoples who otherwise have little direct contact.
Wounded Palestinians who get permission from the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli army are allowed into Israel to seek medical treatment that is not available at Gaza's rudimentary clinics. Here, Israelis and Palestinians meet their erstwhile foe, in many cases for the first time in their lives.

Mr Suleiman, who was only 15 when the second intifada erupted in 2000, had never been to Israel or met an Israeli. Suleiman, a guard in the Palestinian security services who was a devoted follower of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

As he flirts with the Israeli nurses who bring him lunch, check his wounds and blood pressure and empty his bed pan, Suleiman seems, at least for the time being, to have forgotten historical grievances.

"The Jews are like honey, like flowers," he says theatrically. "They wash me, clean me, and change my gown every day. Even in my home, my own family wouldn't change me every day."
"Here, everything is beseder," he adds, using the Hebrew word for "okay".

For the young Israeli nurses, most from nearby communities that live in constant fear of the Palestinian rocket fire, the cultural exchange flows both ways. The Palestinian patients they treat put a human face on the conflict. Nurse and patient can even find a shred of common cause now that the Islamist Hamas movement, which has killed dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings, is locked in a deadly power struggle with the more moderate Fatah movement.

Victims on both sides of the war's de facto frontline are treated side by side here. Five doors down from Mr Suleiman, Ludmilla Visiptzky, 60, awaits her third session of surgery to patch up the shrapnel wounds she suffered when a Palestinian Qassam rocket struck her home in mid-May.

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