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A Journey Through History: Israel

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— October 5, 2017

A Journey Through History: Israel

By ALLAN RICHTER
  • Central to Israel’s success is a sense that the country must be self-reliant, and, paradoxically, that it has to take risks to achieve that. In turn, this mindset has translated into a creative, vibrant society. The ingenuity that this survival mentality has spawned, and the freedom to apply it, can be seen not only in Israel’s technological, medical and agricultural prowess but in its food and culture as well. That culture is not unlike that of the United States.
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Journey through history Israel

Driving my rental car, I am accompanied by constant reminders of Israel’s aptitude for innovation. Waze, my Israeli-developed GPS app, helps me navigate along the curved highway ascending the Jerusalem hills or guides me through Tel Aviv’s narrow streets. And if I veer over the lines dividing my lane, a dashboard sensor signals a beep that nudges me back on course. It also prompted the semiconductor giant Intel to buy the sensor’s Israeli maker, Mobileye, this year for more than $15 billion and move Intel’s automotive unit to Israel. No wonder Israel, with more companies on the Nasdaq than most countries, is called the startup nation. Central to Israel’s success is a sense that the country must be self-reliant, and, paradoxically, that it has to take risks to achieve that. In turn, this mindset has translated into a creative, vibrant society. The ingenuity that this survival mentality has spawned, and the freedom to apply it, can be seen not only in Israel’s technological, medical and agricultural prowess but in its food and culture as well. That culture is not unlike that of the United States. Israel even has its own version of the Burning Man desert festival, Midburn, a five-day spirited carnival of experimental art and community. This dynamic ethos is fully on display in Tel Aviv, Israel’s non-stop metropolis: It hosts the Middle East’s only gay pride parade. Bars and restaurants are teeming with beautiful olive-skinned women and fit young men packed shoulder to shoulder at outdoor tables. At 3 a.m. and beyond, volleyball players spike balls in earnest along the shoreline and bicyclists ride the beachside promenade. And when their night is done at dawn, they just may stop by a bakery in neighboring Jaffa to pick up some fresh, piping hot pita bread with sesame seed garnish, just before tourists start awakening in the highrise hotels to famously lavish Israeli breakfasts. On a recent visit, from the rooftop pool of my boutique hotel in the heart of Tel Aviv, I counted no fewer than 10 cranes at construction sites in every direction. It was a welcome sight. Build, Israel, build. We can hardly wait to see what’s next. Here’s some of what Tel Aviv has to offer in the meantime.

Tel Aviv

Where to Play

Tel Aviv boasts tons of beaches, each with its own personality and set of thrills, along nine miles on the western edge of the city: a dog beach, a gay beach, a beach for the religious (read, separated sexes) and more. Among the most popular are Gordon, Frishman and Bograshov beaches, frequented by tourists and locals alike. I didn’t set out to find a specific beach, but wandered west until I hit sand: I came upon Banana Beach. Though I missed the Friday communal drum session, I did some great people-watching: Besides the bronzed bodies around me, I saw a barefoot nun in full habit walking the shoreline with a female friend in more casual street clothes. Elsewhere, on a walk from Jaffa, Muslim women dressed in hijabs watched over children on monkey bars, and men smoked hookas, while volleyball players, paddle boarders, and kayakers did their thing. Tel Aviv was built for fitness. Waterproof exercise equipment is planted in the sand at various beaches. And the city’s bike-friendly character is clear from separate bike-centric lanes and traffic lights. Bicycles, and scooters compete en masse with other Tel Aviv traffic, and pedestrians can get a healthy workout just from dodging this two-wheeled street rodeo. If you want to explore Tel Aviv on other wheels, you can join the Tel Aviv Rollers (TAR), a fraternity of rollerbladers who gather every Tuesday night at Habima Square. TAR cautions that the rides, at almost 20 miles long, are not for beginners. Averse to rollerblades? Bicyclists are allowed to tag behind the group. In a more destructive mood? Visit 2Break, a venue where you can relieve stress by swinging a baseball bat at plastic ducks, vases, electronics, and assorted ceramic figurines. This will finally kill the memory of your mom scolding you for accidentally dropping and shattering her favorite coffee mug. (2Break.co.il) Where to Eat Early on in the documentary The Search for Israeli Cuisine, Tel Aviv viewers meet Jewish Israeli restaurateur Rama Ben Tzvi, a 15th generation Jerusalem resident so fixated on local ingredients, for years she didn’t serve fish at her Jerusalem restaurant because it would have to come from the Tel Aviv port—about an hour’s drive. Ben Tzvi is just one of many purveyors of Israeli cuisine obsessed with fresh and local ingredients. In a country the size of New Jersey, and with a year-round farm-friendly climate, they have little excuse not to be. “It’s two hours to get anywhere,” observes Roger Sherman, who directed The Search for Israeli Cuisine. “Unless you drove to the far south, everything is right there. Half an hour out of Tel Aviv, 20 minutes out of Jerusalem, you’re in the country. So fresh and flavorful produce is available all year round.” Add to that obsession the impact of what Sherman says are 150 different cultural influences, and you begin to understand the soaring popularity of Israeli cuisine. Middle Eastern traditions, from places like Iraq and Morocco, and European flavors, brought by diaspora Jews returning to the land, as well as Arab traditions, make up this giant stew stirred by Israeli ingenuity. “These cultures either came to Israel bringing their traditions or never left, and many of those cultures are trying to maintain that tradition,” says Sherman. Jewish Israeli cuisine is largely Sephardic (from Spain and Portugal) or Ashkenazi (from Europe). The Sephardic influences, in the form of rice dishes and foods accessorized by myriad spices, dominate. “The Sephardic brought food traditions that were easily replicable or copied or adapted,” Sherman explains. “They didn’t have wild berries and goose fat that they had in Poland in the early days of Palestine, so it was very difficult for those [Ashkenazi] Jewish immigrants to adapt.” Among Sherman’s favorite Tel Aviv eateries is Miznon, with two locations, known for its gourmet-filled pitas. Sherman likes Miznon for celebrity Chef Eyal Shani’s sweet potato cooked for four hours in coals, baked cauliflower, and pastrami in pita. He also likes the restaurant Yaffo-Tel Aviv by Israeli chef Haim Cohen for its simple approach. For wine, Sherman favors The Tasting Room, near the Sarona Market. “It’s…very high tech: They give you a credit card and you sample whatever you like, or buy a glass or bottle. Nice food, too.” After trying The Tasting Room, head over to the Sarona Market, where you’ll find more than 90 shops, stalls, and restaurants. You can sample imported goods—cheeses from around the globe and premium balsamic vinegar from Italy— as well as produce, meat, and seafood from across Israel, along with olive oil straight from an olive press. Because Tel Aviv is a more secular city than, say, Jerusalem, you’ll find more non-kosher food and creativity in Tel Aviv. On my visit, however, I stuck with the basics. After opting out of eating in Neve Tzedek, a Tel Aviv artistic hub (too highbrow; read, pricey), my group settled into the restaurant Big Isaac for some conventional Middle Eastern fare: assorted kabobs and a couple dozen small plates of hummus, olives, pickles, peppers and more. (It was easy to see how Isaac earned his moniker.) We’re big fans of shakshouka, a traditional dish of poached eggs, peppers and spiced tomatoes, so we headed to the restaurant Dr. Shakshouka in nearby Jaffa, not far from the city’s flea market, for some of what is said to be some of the best shakshouka around. It didn’t disappoint. If you’re on the run, there’s no shortage of storefront food concessions where you can have your fill of delicious shwarma, falafel, fresh-squeezed juices and more. On the other hand, if you feel like cooking and you get the chance to do so, you’ll delight in the array of fresh produce, olives, fish, meat and spices, as well as other goods, available at the bustling Carmel Market. I picked up a neat little illustration of Israel’s early leaders walking across Abbey Road a la the Beatles. If you stumble upon the Humus HaCarmel shop, about halfway through the market, hidden behind a cucumber stand, make sure you try its delectable hummus. The theme, as in eateries elsewhere in Israel: fresh and local. Artists paint the walls of Tel Aviv with complex murals. Israel A Journey Through History Humus HaCarmel restaurant is worth a visit.

Worthy Excursions Jerusalem

No trip to Israel is complete without a visit to its capital and spiritual center: Jerusalem. Every stone, every path, conveys ancient history yet the city is charmingly modern. Malls, shopping, sports centers, and a modern light rail system to get you there, provide all the comforts of an urbane city. Jerusalem has garnered some high praise from many of the world’s best runners who participate in the International Jerusalem Marathon, held each March; the marathon takes runners more than 26 miles through Jerusalem’s challenging hills and past historic sites including the Israeli Knesset, the Machane Yehuda market, Mount Scopus and the Old City. (Jerusalem-marathon.com). I’d rather get my thrills in other ways than running, so I tested my threshold for claustrophobia by wending my way for several miles through the narrow (single-file narrow) Hasmonean tunnels, actually an aqueduct built by King Herod. The tunnels are dark, so you can buy a small flashlight with your entrance ticket. Though I waded knee-deep when I trekked through the tunnels a few years ago, they are said to be dry today. (cityofdavid.org)

Where to Stay in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv has a burgeoning boutique hotel industry, but I like to mix things up a bit so I split my time between a stellar boutique hotel and one of the city’s seafront high-rise hotels. For my boutique stay, I found the Poli House, part of Brown Hotels, as alluring for its excellent central location—it’s an easy walk to the beach and other areas of interest—as it is for its fascinating design. The hotel is housed in a 1930s-era building in the Bauhaus architecture style popular at the time. It’s whimsical, futuristic interior, by architect Karim Rashid, features sleek, modernist furniture and fluid wall designs reminiscent of what our childhood Spirograph sets yielded. A highlight is the lovely rooftop pool, with cabanas and bar, as well as the people-watching afforded from my room balcony, the smell of shwarma wafting up to me. The in-room cocktail shaker and recipe book added a nice touch. (thepolihouse.com) For my high-rise hotel stay, I chose the Dan Panorama, part of the Dan Hotels chain in Israel, for its central location and superb amenities. A leisurely walk along the city’s famous seafront promenade will bring you to the Tel Aviv Port to the north, an entertainment hub with no shortage of restaurants and nightclubs. To the south, you can reach Jaffa. The Dan Panorama sports one of the biggest, if not the biggest, pools among Tel Aviv hotels. Despite its size, I found it a bit crowded, though I don’t blame the hotel for the British woman who woke me to ask me if the lounge next to mine was taken. Still, the pool was a highlight, as was the lavish breakfast. (danhotels.com)

Where to Stay in Jerusalem

This blend of the old and modern is something we like when staying in Jerusalem, so we opt for a hotel that has some history and something with more of the modern conveniences. For the historic, we stayed at Mt. Zion Boutique Hotel & Suites, built in the nineteenth century as a hospital by the Order of St. John, a British charity dating back to the Crusades. During World War I, the Turks turned the building into an arms warehouse. In Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, a cable car connected to the building was used to transfer medicine and arms; a small museum on-premises houses the cable car today. Highlights today are the hotel’s magnificent outdoor pool and spacious hammam. A challenging but welcome uphill 15-minute walk will take you to the Jaffa gate entrance to the Old City. (mountzion.co.il) For the more modern, we love the Dan Jerusalem. Also with great Jerusalem vistas, the hotel, with its terraced lobby space and soft tones, has great feng shui. Overlooking the Old City, you can get spiritual without stepping off your balcony if you choose. The hotel boasts what it says is the largest spa facility of Jerusalem’s hotels, and we believe them: It sports an indoor pool, hot tub, treatment rooms (our massage and mud wrap was exquisite), yoga studio and fitness room, and we thought we stumbled on a standalone wellness facility. Not to be missed is the King David Lounge with winning Old City views, cheese platters and other refreshments, and Internet stations. For convenience outside the hotel, the property is minutes from the Light Rail system. (danhotels.com)

Centuries of Tattoos, All in the Family

Steps beyond the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, Wassim Razzouk tends to the family tattoo business. The rounded ceiling of his shop, tucked away on a cobblestone street, gives it a cave-like quality. Razzouk wears shoulder-length hair and a black Harley Davidson T-shirt, and he’ll gladly tattoo “Mom” or a lyric from your favorite band across your arm. But there is much more to Razzouk’s business: The art of tattooing has been in his family for 700 years and came to the Holy Land when his family arrived here from Egypt 500 years ago. Religious images, particularly crosses, figure prominently in the Razzouk portfolio, making Easter his busiest time of the year. Though the cross image has been handed down each generation among the Razzouks, its symbolism has changed. In Egypt, many Christians have a cross tattooed on their inner right wrist. The tradition dates to the spread of Islam, Razzouk explains, when Christians who refused to convert to Islam, or who could not afford the high taxes that accompanied the conversion, were marked with a cross. “They were tattooed with a cross on their inner right wrist in a way that whenever they extended their arm to shake hands, they will be identified as Christians who did not convert,” Razzouk, 44, who is Christian, says. When Muslims stopped the practice, Christians adopted it to help identify each other. It became a source of pride in the faith, then a kind of security pass to enter a church. This still occurs today in Egypt, Razzouk says, because of widespread attacks on Christian places of worship and other sites. During periods when Christian children were abducted as slaves, the artist says, Christian parents had their children tattooed with a cross, sometimes as early as baptism, so they could be identified years later, much the way parents keep records of their children’s fingerprints today. The cross tattoo also became something like a passport stamp for Christians who had gone to the Holy Land. “It was a once in a lifetime event,” Razzouk says. “Underneath your cross would be the year of your pilgrimage.” As Razzouk explains his craft to a visitor, a tour group stops in front of the shop. Razzouk’s studio is like a museum. In a glass case are ancient tattoo tools and 300-year-old olive woodblocks that were used as stamps to stencil tattoo patterns before they were inked with the soot of oil lamps; sometimes the soot was mixed with oil or wine. Razzouk’s grandfather used the soot formula, though his father continued with commercial inks. Sometimes clients want Razzouk to tattoo them with the Jerusalem Cross, a large center cross symbolizing the centrality of Jerusalem in the universe with four smaller Greek crosses (similar to a plus sign) in each quadrant. The clients bring their own designs, Razzouk says, but decide to employ Razzouk’s centuries-old wooden block after he explains its historical substance. Razzouk says his grandfather also introduced the first electric tattoo gun to the Holy Land, coupling it with color. He shows an old sign of his grandfather’s promoting “electric” tattoos with color. “It was something novel,” Razzouk says. On a wall near Razzouk’s desk are four neatly hung frames, each with a photo from another generation of Razzouk tattoo artists, from his great-grandfather to him. The photo of his great-grandfather shows him tattooing a female pilgrim in the street. “It wasn’t done in a studio or in a shop like nowadays,” Razzouk says. Razzouk himself is heavily tattooed. He does the tattoos on himself in areas he can reach; his wife does his other tattoos, and he has two, on his inside upper arm, by his father. One is an image of St. George atop a horse and holding a spear, killing a dragon. “It was used in the Holy Land as a sign of power and protection.” A tattoo by his wife, decidedly more modern, features the wings of the Harley Davidson logo. Razzouk wasn’t always interested in continuing the family business. He didn’t like needles, and when he was young thought the procedure was unsanitary. “I wasn’t very attracted to the profession,” he says. Then he found an article in which his father was quoted saying he feared he would be the last Razzouk in the family business. Wassim did not want to kill the tradition and took up the tools. Now Razzouk says his second son, Nizar, will carry the torch. “I think he does understand and appreciate the history and tradition,” Razzouk says. (razzouktattoo.com) A centuries-old olive wood tattoo stencil of St. George that Razzouk still uses today. Wassim Razzouk in front of his tattoo shop in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Dead Sea

At 1,407 feet below sea level, the salt-dense Dead Sea is devoid of fish and the lowest spot on Earth, its salt-encrusted snow-white banks giving it an otherworldly veneer. It is where tourists flock to cover themselves head to toe in the nourishing mud from its banks or glean the healing powers of its mineral-rich water. And while there, they pose reading a newspaper and floating on their backs as if reclining on a lounge chair—by now a clichéd if not requisite photo op. The black mud has antibacterial properties, according to the Dead Sea-Arava Science Center. The research body, working under Ben Gurion University of the Negev, also notes that the Dead Sea air, unpolluted by industry and heavy car traffic, is low in allergens, making it ideal for visitors with asthma. People with chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis and heart disease have also benefited from visits to the Dead Sea. Some beneficial properties of the Dead Sea were known in Greek and Roman times, prompting a terminally ill King Herod to seek out its waters. Biblical history unfolded in the area; standing above the Dead Sea shore is the life-sized pillar of salt said to be Lot’s wife, who was warned not to turn and look at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah lest she face this eternally immobile punishment. The Dead Sea is not a sea at all but a large lake 47 miles long and up to 11 miles wide. It is bound on the east by Jordan. Water at the surface of the A LAKE SO SALTY IT HOLDS NEARLY NO LIFE. YET VISITORS FLOCK TO IT FOR ITS HEALTH BENEFITS. Dead Sea has a salinity of about five to nine times that found in the oceans, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As the salinity increases with depth, at about 130 feet salinity approaches 300%, nearly ten times the salinity of the oceans. Below 300 feet, the water has a salinity of 332% and is saturated—meaning the water can hold no more salt, which piles up on the bottom. The denser the water, the more buoyant the objects in it. Mark Twain called the Dead Sea a “funny bath” during his travels to the Middle East in 1867. “One could stand straight in the Dead Sea, he wrote in The Innocents Abroad, but “you cannot remain so. The water will soon float your feet to the surface. Had Twain arrived at the “funny bath” today, he would find a receding dead sea, ode to the region’s high temperatures and the use of potable water from the Jordan River in Israel, Jordan and Syria. I stayed at the Isrotel Dead Sea in the Ein Bokek region, a large oasis of hotels, several mini-malls and a handful of eateries. Despite the presence of this commercial center, the area feels remote, as befits its desert location. Temperatures can typically hover in the low three digits, but I was there during a heatwave that pushed the temperature up to 112° F. In this environment, and brutal heat, there is seemingly little to do besides bathe in the Dead Sea’s minerals and duck back inside to cool off. But the area’s desolate looks can be deceiving; it is, in fact, richly steeped in history and nature, making for a number of worthy excursions.

Masada

Rising majestically above the Dead Sea, King Herod’s ancient fortress is one of the iconic sites of Jewish history whose significance is the equivalent of, say, the Civil War’s Gettysburg battlefield to Americans. The plateau was the site of the last stand of nearly 1,000 Jews as they tried to hold off the Roman siege from below in 73 AD. Its rugged surroundings also make it an adventure enthusiast’s choice for hiking. The Snake Path, on the eastern side of Masada, is a winding path your feet to the surface. leading from the base of Masada to the summit, taking hikers up 1,148 feet. A Ramp Path, ascending along the ramp built by the Romans on the west side, is closed to the public. Visitors can also ascend by cable car. The most challenging part of the hike may not be the climb itself but ensuring that you beat the heat by tackling the Snake Path before sunrise and bringing enough water. Hikers have been known to become stranded or dehydrated, so prepare accordingly.

Ein Gedi

The oasis of Ein Gedi is a three-mile strip along the steep slopes of the Judean Desert, a splash of green vegetation against the barren backdrop of the Dead Sea environs and fed by fountains and rivers. It’s a favorite spot among hikers and others looking to cool off in its natural pools and waterfalls. Among the reeds and tamarisk trees, the latter suited for soil with a high salt content, there are hiking trails for all levels of experience; there are also some handicapped trails. Wildlife is abundant, and you’re likely to see ibexes and rotund rodent-like hyraxes. On my visits to Ein Gedi, I’ve stood mesmerized by the sure-footed ibexes effortlessly navigating steep rocky hills.

Qumran

The area surrounding Qumran, near the northwest Dead Sea shores, is popular for canyoning and rappelling. It is also the site where local Bedouins in 1947 discovered in caves jars of scrolls written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that became among the most treasured archaeological finds of the 20th century. You can see the aqueducts, cisterns, reservoirs, kitchen, pottery workshop and other signs of the people who lived here, including the Essene Jewish sect, during the Hellenistic Period c.134-68 BC.

The Israel Trail

It just may be the ultimate hike in Israel—the 700-mile Israel Trail running from the Israeli border with Lebanon in the north to the beach resort town of Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, bordering Egypt. While most hikers tackle short sections of the Israel Trail, Udi Goren became the first professional still photographer to walk and chronicle the entire stretch of the trail when he spent 2½ months from 2014–2015 traversing the country. Goren decided to walk the Israel Trail as a salve for his disenchantment with Mideast politics. The outing worked by deeply connecting him to the land. “You see all the places you’ve been taught about, where Biblical events took place, and most important you get to meet the different people that live in Israel—a religious Orthodox Jew, Bedouins, settlers,” Goren says. “When you’re out on the trail with a heavy backpack, everyone wants to help you succeed. When I speak about the land of Israel, what gives it meaning is the people.” Appalachian Trail Angels who help hikers in the US were a model for the Israel Trail’s Angels who live on or near the trail and aid passing hikers. While Appalachian Trail Angels hand out food and drinks to hikers, Israel’s Trail Angels tend to also offer lodging for a night or two, Goren says. The expansive Israel Trail features a terrain diverse enough for hikers of all skill levels. Goren says the easiest stretch is on the coastal plain, from a little north of Caesaria to Tel Aviv. “You’re hiking the beach for about three days,” he says. The most challenging hike, Goren says, is the Big Crater, in the Negev Desert. Unlike craters caused by meteors, the Big Crater was created more than 200 million years ago by erosion. Five of the world’s eight erosion craters are in Israel, Goren says. “There’s a day that you walk on the rim of the Big Crater,” Goren recounts. “It’s very steep, and since you’re walking on the rim, and you’re walking diagonally, one foot is higher than the other. This is one of the days that you can’t stop. You have to start early enough to make sure you finish the day on time and get back down to the desert.” Goren, who gives talks on his Israel Trail walk, expects to release a book of his Israel Trail chronicles, along with more than 200 of his photographs, by year’s end. (Israeltrailtalk.com)

Once Ordinary, Now Dazzling

In a multimedia synthesis of sculpture, photography, and nature, Israeli artist Sigalit Landau immerses ordinary objects in the Dead Sea and retrieves them months or years later to reveal their metamorphosis. Reclaimed from the Dead Sea, the salt-encrusted objects are crystallized visions of beauty. As described on the artist’s web site, the objects “emerge as if belonging to a different time system, a different logic, or another planet yet their transformation unveils the divine and the eternal in nature.” Pictured are a dress immersed in the Dead Sea, a 2014 piece entitled Small Hasidic Salt Bride, and Joseph’s Violin, from 2010. (sigalitlandau.com) Hikers along the Israel Trail.

Enemies No More

The 26-year-old man looked older than his years. He was tired but at ease, peaceful even. He wore hospital pajamas and his dark hair was closely cropped. Sitting on the edge of his bed at Ziv Medical Center in Safed, a city in northern Israel, the man extended his mangled left leg, showing where bone had been shattered and flesh ripped from the length of his calf in an explosion in his native Syria, less than 19 miles away across the border. So much of the limb had been stripped away that when he stood it was nearly one foot shorter than his other leg. From childhood, the man had been taught by the Syrian government that Israel hates all Arabs and is the enemy. Now, after two weeks at Ziv, where his Israeli doctors treated him for an infection, he was awaiting surgery to rebuild his leg. “We used to hate the Israeli people and the Israeli army,” the man said through a translator, Ferris Issa, 40, an Israeli Arab social worker who is one of the main points of contact with the Syrians who are brought to the hospital. “Now we see in our hard time that it is just the Israeli army that is saving our lives. Now we have friends from the army, friends from the security, friends from the hospital.  Things change. I saw with my own eyes how the Israeli army saved the life of someone that was with me.” In a bed on the other side of a window, the man’s roommate, a 33-year old Syrian whose femur had been broken and left untreated in Syria for two months after a shell exploded near his car, nodded, a soft smile appearing within his salt-and-pepper beard. Though an Israeli military escort asked that the Syrian men not be named for their own safety—they face retribution from ISIS, Hezbollah or any number of factions for stepping foot in Israel—it has been an open secret that the Jewish state has been treating Syrians wounded in that country’s civil war. In July, shortly after my visit, Israel confirmed that it has treated 4,000 Syrian patients since 2013. That number is only a fraction of the 400,000 Syrians killed since hostilities broke out in 2011, including many civilians targeted in chemical attacks by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s allies. But Israel and the Syrians it is treating say the care is helping relieve a humanitarian crisis and demolishing decades-old biases. As it eases border tensions, the aid also may lay the groundwork for peace. The Israel Defense Forces Northern Command formally set up its Operation Good Neighbor headquarters in June 2016. In the year since, 450,000 liters of fuel have been transferred to Syria for heating and operating water wells and bakery ovens. The IDF also transferred generators and water pipes to rebuild Syrian infrastructure. It shipped 225 tons of food, 55 tons of clothing and 12,000 packages of baby formula, among other supplies. As word of mouth spread among Syrians about the medical care available in Israel, they began seeking treatment for afflictions not related to the civil war. On the day I visited Ziv, a six-year-old deaf Syrian girl twisted yellow and pink pipe cleaners at a crafts table in the pediatric unit. The girl’s mother brought her in with ear infections, and Ziv medical care workers were modifying her hearing aids, believed to be the cause. Israeli hospitals in the north are often referred by others who received medical care before them. But neither Syrians nor the Israelis caring for them were so comfortable with the arrangement when the first Syrians were brought in for care in Israel in February 2013. Some hospital staff lost relatives in fighting with Syria, while Syrians were taught from an early age under the dictatorships of Bashar Assad and his father Hafez that Israelis were little more than rabid child killers. “It’s been a process. At the beginning there was a huge culture shock on both sides,” says Anthony Luder, MD, the hospital’s pediatrics director, citing “fear and trepidation” among hospital workers. “The staff here was very confused and some of them were very hostile and shocked.” Having arrived in Israel in 1992, Luder said he did not have the same sense of fear, but wrestled with some of the medical ethics concerns harbored by the state: how to communicate with the Syrians, ensuring that they understood what their treatment entailed and gauging whether they could make decisions relating to their treatment. “The fact that someone walks into a hospital is taken to be consent on his part,” Luder says. “A lot of the Syrians did not walk in; they came because somebody brought them. So as far as I’m concerned, I’m a physician and I don’t even know if the basic consent is there. Informed consent is essentially a free decision. How free can you be when you are totally dependent on the people around you, all of whom are your enemies? I mean you’re going to say whatever pleases them. From a medical-ethical point of view we have serious issues to deal with.” The hospital overcame the issues by expanding its dialogue with its own state and putting in place the people who could deal most effectively with the incoming Syrians: other Arabic speakers. Social workers like Issa and volunteers from among the Israeli Arab community, including Christian Arabs and Druze, sat down with the wounded and befriended them to help build trust, ensure that they felt they could speak freely and feel they had an advocate. “We started to build relationships with them,” recalls Issa, a burly but soft-spoken man. “Sometimes it took three days, sometimes a week.” Ziv also put to work its medical clowns, some of whom speak Arabic, to help dispel any fears among Syrian children who were brought in. “We call them dream doctors, and they work very closely with the kids and become friends,” Luder says. “they’re very much separate but allied with the medical staff. They can help the kids express themselves and ask questions that perhaps they couldn’t ask us.” Luder says it is fitting that the work with the Syrians is taking place in the ancient city of Safed, a center of Judaism’s mystical Kabbalah movement. “This city, of course, has been a center stage in the history of Judaism in the post-temple period. It’s no coincidence if you’re of a spiritual mind that these things are taking place here. It’s certainly appropriate that they’re taking place here because this very much speaks to the way Jews view their role in the world in terms of making the world better, making it a holier world than it is now.” Social worker Ferris Issa with a deaf child, above. Right, a Syrian man awaiting treatment for his mangled leg. In May, Dovy Meyer and Yisrael Shachar, two volunteer medical technicians for Israel’s United Hatzalah emergency medical service, responded to a car accident in which a six-year-old Arab girl was trapped in a car. Shachar, a father of three, spoke calmly with the girl until she could be safely removed and returned to her grateful family. For Meyer, the rescue of an Arab by two Israeli Jewish EMTs is commonplace—Arab emergency services workers routinely bring aid to Jews and vice versa. What made this call poignant was that it took place near IDF (Israel Defense Forces) Square in Jerusalem and on Israel’s Remembrance Day, which commemorates fallen soldiers. The rescue highlighted Jews and Arabs as people with shared needs rather than as adversaries. “Ultimately, we are there to save people and it doesn’t matter who that person is,” Meyer says. “If we can help bring peace to Jerusalem by doing that, even helping to change the heart of one person at a time, then that makes our jobs so much more meaningful.” One month later, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed border policewoman Hadas Malka at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. Malka, who fought her assailant, received extensive wounds. Among the first responders was Mohammed Abed al-Rahman, a senior paramedic with the Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulance service. En route to the hospital, Al-Rahman and his team treated the officer with surgery, artificial respiration, and medication. At the hospital, they joined the team of doctors working to save her life, but the 23-year-old died an hour later. “Many times we enter scenes of ongoing incidents and treat patients under danger,” al-Rahman, who has tended to victims of dozens of terror attacks, told Israel Today. “In these moments we operate with a sense of mission and with a single intention—saving the patient. We don’t think about what’s to come, and not about what could happen to us.” In addition to having diverse response teams, the EMS groups are getting them to trauma scenes with unprecedented speed by deploying “ambucycles.” United Hatzolah has a fleet of more than 600 motorcycle ambulances, each costing $36,000. Response times of medics on ambucycles average 90 seconds because they can quickly wind through tra c congestion and avoid road closures. In that time, medics can help stabilize patients until a better-equipped conventional ambulance arrives on the scene. Ambucycles aren’t the only creative fast-response methods. To navigate tight alleyways and areas with steps, like many locations in the Old City, United Hatzalah dispatches first responders on bicycles, too. And on the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, it deploys jet skis and boats. Medics that can reach trauma patients within the first three minutes can help them avoid permanent damage to the brain and heart, says Raphael Poch, a United Hatzalah spokesman. Each ambucycle storage box contains advanced lifesaving equipment scaled to fit its size limitations. In addition to the complete trauma kit, the box contains a specialized oxygen canister, blood sugar monitor and defibrillator. After a morning visit to the new Jerusalem headquarters of United Hatzalah, where giant, sophisticated screens beam emergency locations to dispatchers, this writer got a chance to see a United Hatzalah ambucycle in action. That evening in the coastal city of Netanya, my friend spotted a leg sticking out of a hedge in front of the apartment building we had just visited. (The leg belonged to an intoxicated woman.) After my friend called in the emergency, a United Hatzalah ambucycle arrived in three minutes, followed by the police, then a Magen David Adom conventional ambulance.

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