HD staff sat down with Raya El-Abassi/Eleyan, our representative in the West Bank, to find out more about her experience as a Palestinian-Israeli, about health in the West Bank, and about her hopes for promoting Palestinian well-being. The following is an interview was conducted in East Jerusalem in May 2015.
HD’s West Bank Representative, Raya Al-Abassi/Elayan, with Administrative Director Tova Reznicek in East Jerusalem. April 2015
HD: First and foremost, we welcome you to Healing Across the Divides (HD), Raya. Please tell us a little about yourself, and what made you want to work with an organization like HD.
I was born and raised in Haifa, so for me personally as a Palestinian-Israeli, promoting civil society and sustainable livelihoods is very important. And as a woman, working towards gender equality in both Palestinian and Israeli society is especially critical. The goals of Healing Across the Divides are very much in line with my own.
Raya with her husband and son at their home in Qatannah.
I come from a relatively small family, with only one brother, who was a medical doctor serving in small marginalized villages near Haifa. He played an important role in my passion for assisting others. Unfortunately he passed away at a young age.
Both my mother and my father are from Haifa, but my father, who also passed away, worked in Jerusalem as a journalist and also a poet—he wrote about love, and sharing. As for my mother, I was lucky that from a young age she was an English teacher, so I was able to learn English early on. I received my first degree from Haifa, but eventually traveled abroad—to the UK and Canada. I received a scholarship to study NGO management in Canada, which I loved. Though this is my home, it was good to leave the intensity of the Middle East for a bit.
At the American Colony, East Jerusalem.
About 15 years ago I moved to Jerusalem, a city I’ve been in love with since I was a child. Since then I’ve had incredible opportunities working with local and international organizations to develop Palestinian society, in such areas as food security, psycho-social intervention, poverty—and helping to establish national platforms to create sustainable environments in the OPT. Capacity building and strengthening of community-based groups (CBOs), of the kind that Healing Across the Divides engages in (especially in Area “C”) is an important part of this work.
HD: What would you most like to see changed in the Palestinian health system – especially for women – in the West Bank?
Currently there is total chaos at the decision making level in the West Bank. More and more players keep intervening at this level and collapsing the system. This chaos must end and be replaced with a working system for setting health policy that is adhered to. I also think that it is very important to see more women involved in decision-making regarding health, especially at the political level. Laws need to passed for a functioning health system to emerge.
Looking outside the family home in Qatanna.
In the meantime, it’s important that we do our best to sow the seeds of the future national system in terms of infrastructure, while also improving the health of the population as best as we can. This way we create change on two different but interdependent levels—that of health and that of national progress. A person who is sick requires space in order to heal.
Back when I lived in Haifa we used to have this saying, “If you want to have coexistence you have to have space to exist.” Without progress on the national stage, you cannot have health. And without health, it is very hard to progress nationally.
HD: How does your status as an Israeli citizen holding an Israeli ID but living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank affect your work?
A home in Qatanna. ©VizAviz/Panorama
Actually life is not easy in this situation because I in fact live with my family in two places at the same time. My husband is Palestinian and didn’t receive the required status change to be able to live in with his family—myself and our two children—in Jerusalem. We have one son, Muhammad-Rami, who is 9 years old and one daughter named Rama who is about to turn seven. Our family is quite small by Palestinian standards.
Raya letting her son Muhammad-Rami know that she is safe and sound after a worried call from him during the meeting.
My children and I have blue (Israeli) identity cards, but my husband does not. I therefore live with the children in Jerusalem during the week, where they go to school, and we travel every weekend to live together as a family in the West Bank village of Qatannah. Our home in the village is very beautiful, but it is 35 kilometers (20 miles) from our Jerusalem home. And because we have to pass the Qalandia checkpoint to get from one point to the other it takes us more than two hours to get to either side each time. But of course it is important that we are together as a family and that the children spend quality time with their father. Continue reading