Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Crossing Religious Lines in an Israeli Hospital

JERUSALEM — There are no empty beds this day in the recovery room at the Hadassah-Ein Kerem hospital. Doctors and nurses hover over patients. Manar Igbarya, 25, is giving a woman an injection and inspecting a bandage on her right leg. The Orthodox patient is absorbed in talking to her visiting husband. Everyone is chatting in Hebrew; nothing in this scene seems unusual, except that Ms. Igbarya is a Palestinian Muslim.

Muna al-Ayan, 22, who works as a secretary in the same hospital, wears a hijab; everyone recognizes her as a Muslim. She said it had been hard for her to find a job in the past because of that, but she was accepted at the hospital because “all they cared about was how I do my job.” Every so often, she said, smiling, a patient is surprised to see a Muslim working here.
Ashgan, 35, who asked not to be identified by her family name, works in the operating room as a nurse. “We all speak Hebrew, and all we do here is our job, though we all carry our Palestinian identity inside us,” she said, looking at the other two women. “No one can forget their identity.”
While more traditional Palestinian women marry in their early 20s, the members of this trio are all single. Each of them characterized the world inside the hospital as very different from that outside its walls, where Arab and Jewish Israelis live -- at least in some places -- side by side but barely interact.

“We are a team here, and there is no difference, if one is Jewish or Muslim or Christian: The task is to help the patients,” Ms. Igbarya said. Sometimes, she said, she glimpses questions in the eyes of some Jewish patients if they hear her speaking Arabic to Ms. Ayan or to Ashgan. 

There is a tension to Jerusalem even more intense than in other parts of Israel, in part because the city itself is a key source of dispute, important as it is to the religion of both Jews and Muslims.

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