Naim El Baida is a building contractor. He has worked across the Green Line in Israel for many years. His Hebrew is excellent, as good as his Arabic. He is one of seven siblings and has seven children, two of whom were married this year. His siblings live in Jordan and Naim keeps in close contact with them. He looks after the family olive orchards, a part of which spreads out from the West Bank village of Jayyous, while another part is inaccessible because it lies on the wrong side of the security barrier.
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I met Naim recently. My wife and I were part of a small group of volunteers who had come to Jayyous to help Naim with his annual olive harvest.
In addition to his “day job”, Naim El Baida is the volunteer co-ordinator in the West Bank for Road to Recovery, an Israeli NGO dedicated to assisting Palestinian patients get access to hospital care in Israel.
He has been volunteering for Road to Recovery for five years and has become the “go to” person for Palestinian families with children who need treatment in Israel.
Naim is not a medico and doesn’t provide patient referrals. These come from the Palestinian Authority which covers the cost of patient treatment in Israeli hospitals for those Palestinians whose health issues can’t be addressed adequately by Palestinian hospitals. Naim is a facilitator – a vital cog in an important wheel that makes it possible for Palestinian families to make the journey to Israeli hospitals.
In one sense, the close physical proximity of Gaza and the West Bank to Israel is a great bonus for critically-ill Palestinians. But in another, critically important way, the physical closeness highlights the challenges faced by a population living in a third-world country, cheek by jowl with an OECD member.
According to Naim, many of the Palestinian families in need of support have monthly incomes of less than US$800. When they cross the checkpoint they need to make their own way to the Israeli hospital. The return trip can often cost up to US$150. If the child is chronically ill and in need of multiple trips to hospital each week, the cost of transportation alone can devastate a family. Many can’t even afford that first fateful step.
It is in this context that Naim and the 650+ Israeli volunteer drivers with Road to Recovery have made a life-saving difference. Their availability to pick up, drop-off and return the Palestinian patients from and to the checkpoints is the economic salvation for these families.
The volunteer transfers play an additional important role in building bridges to better understanding between people on both sides of the conflict.
Naim tells the story of a West Bank family where the father, a Hamas activist, was shot and killed by the IDF eight years ago. His oldest child was seven. Three years ago the boy was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness which was not treatable in Palestinian hospitals. The mother’s desire to help her son outweighed her desire for revenge and she agreed to have her son treated in Israel.
Over the course of multiple visits to the Israeli hospital the mother’s attitudes mellowed. She has seen that it is possible to engage with the “other” and for each to treat the other in a humane way. Naim stresses the need to end the Israeli occupation but he feels strongly that these people-to-people contacts are key to having his fellow Palestinians see the political process as a far better option than the alternative.
Sitting in the Naim’s olive orchard after five hours of olive harvesting and sharing the wonderful meal prepared by his wife, it was hard to argue with that sentiment.
By: Posted by Ron Finkel
Reprinted with permission from www.plus61j.net.au
Ron Finkel, holds degrees in law and commerce from Melbourne University and has been actively involved in the Australian venture capital industry since 1986. Prior to founding the Momentum Ventures Fund in 1998, Ron was the Director of Investments at Advent Management Group. He was also a director of a number of portfolio companies and identified and developed the opportunity to establish a fund investing in businesses serving the Australian tourism industry. Momentum Ventures is an early stage venture fund investing in innovative technologies across a broad range of industry sectors. The fund has made investments in the ITT, biotechnology and manufacturing processes sectors. Ron is Chairman of Panviva Pty Ltd and a director of Petrecycle Limited and Benthic Geotech Pty Ltd. Ron is active in a leadership capacity in the Australian Jewish community. He is the President of Hadassah Australia, President of AUSiMED Limited, Chairman of the Arava Australia Partnership and the Immediate Past President of Ameinu. Ron was President of AUJS in 1971/2 and the President of the World Union of Jewish Students from 1973 – 1977. Ron and his family went on aliyah in 1977 and returned to Australia at the end of 1985.