By Judy Siegel-Itzokvich, www.JPost.com
Film shows cooperation between Jewish and Palestinian volunteer paramedics in United Hatzalah.
No one believed it could happen, but it has: An Israeli living in England has made a politics-free film about cooperation between Jewish and Palestinian volunteer paramedics for the Orthodox Jerusalem organization United Hatzalah, who save lives together in the capital’s western and eastern neighborhoods.
The 25-minute program, Jerusalem SOS, was broadcast four times last month by the global Arab TV network Al Jazeera in English, which has also put it online for all to see
It is an unusual sight: Arabs wearing orange vests printed with the red Star of David team up with haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews wearing black kippot, their sidecurls and tzitzit (ritual fringes) blowing in the wind. And the partners have only praise for each other.
“I don’t care which person I’m saving. I even go to [the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of] Mea Shearim on Shabbat,” says Fadi, one of 100 Arabs currently volunteering for UH.
“Saving lives is a religious act for me. Forget all the politics and the mess. People need to live.”
“The Arabs are so devoted,” says a haredi paramedic.
“Their chest compressions are incredible. They respect Jewish sensitivities, especially on Shabbat.”
Eli Beer, the haredi founder and head of the lifesaving rescue organization, commented, “It’s amazing to see how well we all get along together, without conflict. Everybody knows and respects each other.”
In a phone interview from London, the filmmaker, Keren Ghitis, told The Jerusalem Post how the piece came together.
“I started teaching people how to make videos in Latin America and Africa so they could tell their own stories. I made this video as part of the Ir Amim Initiative, which solicited ideas for films from Palestinian and Israeli filmmakers.
We were asked to tell things that usually do not get attention,” she said.
She submitted it to Al Jazeera, which, she said, was very interested in broadcasting it. Nothing was censored or dictated to toe any line. The first showing was on January 16 in prime time.
“The comments from around the world, including the Arab world, have been very positive. There has also been a lot of mention of it on Facebook. A Palestinian community in the U.S. even asked us for permission to use it for educational purposes,” she said, adding, “It broke a lot of stereotypes.”
The Al Jazeera Network has more than 65 bureaus around the world, with a staff of 3,000 – including more than 400 journalists from more than 60 countries. There is a bureau that hires Israeli Jews and Arabs. The English station has more than 1,000 experienced staffers of more than 50 nationalities and broadcasts to some 220 million households in more than 100 countries.
“I wanted to reach people and see more collaboration between Arabs and Jews,” Ghitis explained when asked why she chose the subject. “More support is needed for medical services in east Jerusalem.”
The UH-trained Palestinian paramedics note in the film that there are often delays in Magen David Adom reaching the sick and wounded in east Jerusalem because no ambulance can get there without being accompanied by a police or military escort. UH Arabs and Jews often get there first on their ambucycles. In addition, many streets are unnamed, and houses have no identifying numbers.
Beer said Al Jazeera had set no conditions for the broadcast.
Speaking to the Post from Davos, he said he had just met Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, who received the Nobel Prize.
“He was amazed,” he said.
“He and lots of people from all over the world tell me that the fact that I am a proud Jew and Israeli makes Israel look very good.”
Beer wants to have Arabs all over the country working hand-in-hand with haredi, religious, and secular Jews for his rescue organization. “I want about 3,000 volunteers, about 15 percent of of them Christian and Muslims.”
Jews and Muslims do not oppose working together, he says, despite the invisible boundaries and suspicions that separate their communities.
“In the beginning, I met a few who were surprised about working together, but after they saw that they are great people and really professional, they all like it,” said Beer.
The Jews also work on Shabbat and festivals in an emergency, and the Muslims on Fridays and Ramadan.
The film follows volunteers like Hezi, a former yeshiva student who works in a fishmonger’s shop and has volunteered with UH for 15 years, and Fadi, a security guard at Al-Aksa Mosque.
Fadi, presented as a loving father hugging his young children at home, has been an assistant to the Jewish owner of a Mea Shearim hardware store since the age of 14. His family encourages him to go any time he gets an emergency call, as does Shlomo, the shop owner. “He is like a son to me,” says the Mea Shearim retailer.
Hezi is not worried when dispatched to the Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem, and works with Red Crescent medics.
“Since they started working together in 2010, hundreds of lives have been saved,” Ghitis concluded.
See the film made by Keren Ghitis with English, Hebrew, and Arabic spoken:
Between 1948 and 1967, a border separated Arabs living in east Jerusalem from Jews living in the rest of the city.
Today, much of the city’s Arab population remains in the east, while the majority of its Jewish population lives in the west.
Although they are free to do so, few residents move between the city’s Arab and Jewish areas. In the minds of most, the border that separated Jews and Arabs 40 years ago still exists today.
“Witness” follows Jewish and Arab volunteer paramedics who choose to cross these boundaries.
Hezi, a Hassidic Jew, has been working for United Hatzalah, an emergency service run by orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, for more than 15 years. In 2010, the organization started employing Arab paramedics, and Fadi joined to improve first aid services in Jerusalem’s Arab neighbourhoods.
In Jerusalem SOS, we follow Fadi and Hezi as they traverse Jerusalem, providing first aid at all hours to the city’s residents.