A View Across the Divides: Healing Across the Divides’ Trip to Israel and the West Bank, April 3-12, 2016

By Cathy Levine (trip participant)

Most of the images in this blog post were taken by Dr. Jonathan Groner, also a trip participant. To view more of his beautiful photographs from the trip, click here.

Healing Across the Divides led its first study tour of Israel and the West Bank in April 2016. The following is a summary of the trip. 

DAY 1: SUNDAY, APRIL 3 – Arrival in Jaffa, Tel Aviv
We met the other participants and our two tour guides—one Israeli, one Palestinian—over dinner and stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel—a stark contrast to some of the communities we were about to visit.

DAY 2: MONDAY, APRIL 4: Jaffa and Tel Aviv
On our first full day, we did a walking tour of Jaffa, a major port city for nearly 5000 years. Here we began learning about the contrasting experiences of Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Now, Jaffa has many wealthy Jewish-Israelis living next door to poor Palestinian-Israelis.
On our visit to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, we reflected on how Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination derailed the peace process.

Our first HATD grantee visit: One in Nine:  This HATD intervention is a collaborative program to raise rates of early detection among Jewish ultra-Orthodox women, who lag far behind other Israeli women in early detection and treatment. Many women don’t know about early detection as there is no public discussion of breast cancer in the community.






Perceptions also exist that early detection contradicts Jewish religious law, a belief reinforced by some rabbis. Modesty must be accounted for in spreading education (educators don’t refer to the “breast” in some communities). Fear of risking arranged marriage by family history also exists. Continue reading

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From California to Palestine: A talk with our newest team-member

Nehad Fattah recently joined Healing Across the Divides as the West Bank Representative. In this interview we talk to her about life as a Palestinian-American in the West Bank, her views on the region, and why she supports sustainable initiatives for Palestinian health.  

HD: You have quite an interesting background—tell us about it. 
I was born in Brazil’s capital city, Brasilia, to Palestinian parents.  I lived there until I was two years old.  We then moved to the United States and settled in San Francisco, California.  I have three sisters and one brother. I was educated in the US.  I received both a BS and Master’s degree in counseling psychology from San Francisco State University.   After graduation I came for a visit to Palestine for the first time and that’s when I met my husband. Soon after marriage I had my first son, Thaer, then a year later I had my second son Rami.  Jude the youngest boy was born six years later.

HD: How is it being a Palestinian-American living in the West Bank?
It’s quite an experience to say the least. I’ve been living here for 16 years now, so I do feel like I belong.  But that definitely was not the case when I first moved here. Back then I always felt like an outsider, I didn’t understand how things worked—and they work verydifferently than in the US. At first, I have to admit, everyone seemed somewhat backwards.

Nehad and her three sons, Rami, Thaer and Jude.

But once I really got to know the people where I live, and wasn’t just a temporary guest here—both in their eyes and mine—I realized just how kind so many people around me were, and that I had arrived with my own prejudices which I had to chip away at. I realized that I had to get over my feelings of being privileged, and I learned that we are all equal no matter where you live or what type of passport you hold.

HD: Picking up and leaving California for the West Bank is quite a change. What made you move?
My husband, who is also Palestinian, wanted to live here and raise our family here, and I agreed to move.  Frankly, I was tired of living in the US.  I was tired of everyone just working for the dollar to buy a bigger car or house.  I was feeling very empty there.

A view from Nehad’s backyard in Saffa, a village west of Ramallah.

I don’t feel like that here at all, there is a real sense of community here and I like that.  I do however really miss my parents and sisters and brother. It pains me to be so far away, but the sacrifice is worth it because my children are happy here and this is home to them.

HD: How has that been—raising your children in Palestine?
It’s been great raising our children here.  Don’t get me wrong, living under occupation sucks and it’s hard for me to have to see them being raised under such discrimination, but I feel it’s good for them to learn what the world is like.

My kids have the best of both worlds actually, we visit my family who still live in San Francisco almost every year—I actually see them as more American than Palestinian. They’re fluent in both Arabic and English and that makes me so proud.

Jericho, West Bank

They attend a very good Quaker school in the area—I’ve often wondered whether we could even afford such a school in the US. Continue reading

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Trip Summary Feb 2016: A New Team-Member and a View of Tel Aviv from the West Bank

The following is a February 2016 trip summary to the Middle East by our Executive Director. For previous trip summaries click hereScroll down to view additional photos from the trip.

I had one major objective in this trip to the region–to interview new candidates for the Healing Across the Divides representative in the West Bank. I arrived Tuesday morning and through the day interviewed three candidates who were finalists for the position–each with very different experiences. I am quite confident that each would work very well with Healing Across the Divides.

A “Women of the Wall” prayer service by the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Very early Wednesday morning, I went to a very moving monthly service of Women of the Wall. Immediately afterwards, I spent the day working with a potential grantee–an organization that delivers diabetes prevention and treatment services in a number of villages in the West Bank. They were proposing to increase community care for diabetic patients. We first met in their home office, where we went over the proposed budget. One of the strengths of Healing Across the Divides is that we have expertise both internally (board and technical advisory committee) and through our external consultants to carefully examine proposed budgets; for example, we know how many diabetics a community health worker can possibly be responsible for. After this initial meeting focused on the budget, we spent most of the rest of our time with this organization in a West Bank village. It was a beautiful clear day in the West Bank. This village was on a hilltop–very close to many Jewish settlements, a number of which were clearly encroaching on the land belonging to the village. Apparently there are weekly demonstrations by Palestinians against this land grabbing on the part of settlers. At the same time as I looked out over the valley, I could see Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea. Everything was so close–the settlers, Tel Aviv, the sea, and yet so far–walls, both psychological and physical, in between Palestinians, settlers and all Israelis. Continue reading

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Fighting for health, under fire

Despite the renewed wave of Palestinian-Israeli violence, our local representatives in the field, Patrick Levy and Raya Eleyan-Al-Abassi* (who oversee our operations in Israel and the West Bank, respectively) have continued their tireless efforts to promote health and empower communities. We felt it fitting to spotlight their personal reflections on the current situation.

*Due to the violence, Raya has since chosen to relocate with her family to a safer environment outside of the West Bank.

HATD: How has the recent surge in violence impacted operations in the field in Israel and the West Bank?

Patrick: For one, many planned gatherings across Israel have had to be postponed for the mere fact that participants could not reach one another—mobility across the country has been severely disrupted since the violence began. Also, personal safety is everyone’s number one priority. The fact that so many of our programs work with women and mothers has also played a role: anyone with children or dependents right now is focused on making sure their families are safe. Most other concerns have been placed on the backburner.

Having said so, some projects that operate in more remote regions—away from the violence in Israel’s urban centers—have been able to continue with less disruption. Our Beterem program (working with grandmothers to lower rates of domestic accidents with children) just finalized a training session, despite the wave of violence, with 15 grandmothers in the Arab village of Tur’an in northern Israel. Our joint project with the Israeli AIDS Task Force and ASSAF, working to support those in the refugee community living with HIV, has continued its awareness workshops and meetings. Though Tel Aviv has been hit by the unrest, the neighborhoods in the southern part of the city, where so many residents are African refugees, have been largely excluded from the violence. In short, we are doing our best to provide the most support we can to all the communities we work with even during this time of uncertainty. I am only sorry that we have to do so while feeling under siege.

Raya: Yes the situation is sadly similar, and worse in many ways, in the West Bank. People are just so afraid, and many parents are not even sending their kids to school out of fear for their safety. I even kept my kids home from school for three days last week, the situation was very unstable and not safe. The school that they attend is a private Christian school in East Jerusalem. It was surrounded in recent days with soldiers and huge [concrete] blocks as part of the security crackdown. Understand, my kids have never seen such things. My 7-year old daughter was especially terrified. So decided it would be best to not to put them through this, never mind driving with them through neighborhoods where we could be targeted by extremist Jews is they realized we were Arab. We are all afraid…afraid just of what would happen living our normal lives if we go out in the street. Continue reading

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A personal interview with our representative in the West Bank

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

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Passover, Land Day, Native Americans and the Palestinian-Israeli question: Why our work is critical, now more than ever

Healing Across the Divides’ representative in Israel, Patrick Levy, recently returned to the Middle East after a trip to the US.  On the eve of Passover in the wake of Israeli elections, he shares his thoughts about freedom and hope in the US, Israel, and Palestine.

Post-election Passover: Standing clear of the closing doors

Last Wednesday I returned to Israel after travelling across the United States. I had hoped to return to a new chapter in Israeli politics, which I did — just not the one I had expected. As I watch Netanyahu try to build a coalition of Israel’s right wing parties, I do my best to adjust to a new reality adding even more challenges to the region.

During my trip, I met with supporters of Healing Across the Divides and the organization’s board members, along with many other people working for change. Between meetings I had the unique opportunity to learn more about the so-called “Land of the Free,” and specifically, the complex reality of relations between Native Americans and the country’s European “newcomers.” I managed to visit several Indian reservations including Palm Springs’ “Section 14,” one of the areas where native Americans were forced to relocate to as Europeans sought land and promises in the American west. Here and elsewhere, casinos, poverty, and land restrictions continue to flourish.

My US history lesson finally brought me to the National Museum of the Native American in Washington DC, where an amazing exhibit that I highly recommend, Nation to Nation: Treaties between the US and American Indian Nations, is currently on display. Continue reading

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Trip Summary February 2015: In the shadow of Israeli elections

The following is a February 2015 trip summary to the Middle East by our Executive Director. For previous trip summaries click hereScroll down to view additional photos from the trip. 

Beautiful blue sky above Abraham's tomb in Hebron, the West Bank.

Beautiful blue sky above Abraham’s tomb in Hebron, the West Bank.

My trip this time was under the shadow of the Israeli election together with worsening economic times in the West Bank/Occupied Palestinian Territories (not to speak of Gaza – which I did not visit – though we would like to be working there as it is the area most urgently in need).

I focused on three issues during this trip to the region: getting to know and beginning to work with Ms Raya Eleyan, our new Palestinian representative in the West Bank; beginning the work with four new grantees in Israel; exploring new grantees and established community-based groups that we work with in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Qattana, the West Bank.

Qattana, the West Bank.

With respect to our selection process that resulted in the choice of Ms Eleyan, we received more than one hundred applications for the position. We then narrowed the pool to about ten candidates, wh0 I then interviewed via skype. Of these, four people were chosen who I interviewed in person. Lastly, the Healing Across the Divides board was also engaged together with our Israeli representative, Patrick Levy, in choosing the most appropriate applicant. Healing Across the Divides is pleased to welcome Raya Eleyan. Immediately upon my arrival on Friday February 27th, I went into several hours of meetings with Ms Eleyan. She lives in Qatanna with her husband two wonderful children.

Underpass beneath Israeli bypass road 443 going from Qattana to Ramallah.

Qatanna, along with Biddu (where I saw patients as an internist on a weekly basis working for the Palestine Medical Relief Society back in 1996), Beit Duqqu, Beit Surik, Beit ‘Anan, al-Qubeiba, Beit Ijza, Kharayib Umm al Lahimand, and Tira form the “Biddu enclave”. The enclave is linked to Ramallah by underpasses and a road that is fenced on both sides (see additional photo below). From the “Biddu enclave” Palestinians travel along a fenced road that passes under a bypass road to the Bir Nabala enclave, then on a second underpass under Bypass Road 443 to Ramallah. Continue reading

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A letter of thanks to HATD from the Har Nof Community Center in Jerusalem

January 21, 2015

To the Women of Cleveland and HATD (WHC):

I would like to let you know how your leadership training program for the health promotion of Chareidi women project has affected the Ramat Shlomo community.

After a personal interview, twenty five women were selected to participate in a series of 16 sessions to study various topics concerning health advancement and leadership training. These lectures given by professionals in the field of nutrition, health care, and health advancement were most informative and interesting. Our facilitator, Aliza Pashtan Whitefield, led relevant discussions before and after each lecture, and encouraged our participation and personal growth. She is especially gifted in her intuitive ability, and was able to bring out the best in each and every participant with respect to her individuality. Continue reading

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Success story in Deir Hannah: “Enas”

“Enas”, a 40-year-old woman from the Arab village of Deir Hannah in northern Israel, arrived at the Amwaj (Arabic for “waves”) program for single women at the Kayan Feminist Organization by way of the Israel’s welfare department.

Enas was extremely introverted and shy, and showed little interest in participating in the group’s activities (the director of the local council’s sports department, who happened to live in in Enas’ small close-knit neighborhood, had never even heard of her prior to joining the group).

Beyond Enas’ self-imposed reservations, her parents also set strict limitations on her, making it difficult for her to participate in community activities

With time, however, Enas began taking increasingly greater interest in the group. Not only did she participate, but she surprised everyone by actually helping to organize events. Her hidden skills of excellent organization and recruitment ability began to show. Eventually, she even took upon herself to organize a lecture on her own that drew a wide audience from the local community. More recently, Enas began cooperating with group-members to carry out joint activities. Continue reading

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Feminist Muslim Promoter of Health: Rafa Anabtawi

Rafa following an HATD event in Washington D.C.

Rafa following an HATD event in Washington D.C.

See more event photos below

November was a busy month for Healing Across the Divides and Rafa Anabtawi, Director of the Kayan Feminist Organization, a grantee of HATD. Rafa, a feminist Muslim from northern Israel, was the highlight of numerous fundraising and awareness-raising events hosted by HATD in major cities across the U.S. northeast.

Stops included New York, Boston, Cambridge, Mass., Northampton, Mass., and Washington D.C., where Rafa spoke alongside HATD to audiences at the Harvard School of Public Health, USAID, representatives of U.S. State Department Bureau of Near East Affairs, and many other notable groups influencing health policy in the Middle East.

A question and answer session about Palestinian feminism and women's health in NYC

A question and answer session about Palestinian feminism and women’s health in NYC

As Kayan’s director, Rafa plays the critical role of heading Israel’s largest Arab feminist-empowerment group. Tapping in to community energy at the local level, Kayan is now working with the support of HATD to promote health for Israeli Arab women by engaging them in local politics that influence health policy.

In the short time that Kayan has received financial and technical support from HATD, the Haifa-based group has established numerous all-female “health committees” in various Arab villages in the Galilee region. These committees are responsible for researching gaps in health care for Arab-Israeli women, as well as planning and executing programs to effect change at the local level via engagement with regional and national political authorities.

Currently, HATD and Kayan are in the planning stages of an expanded health-promotion effort that would serve an even greater number of marginalized communities in northern Israel while also bridging gaps between Jewish and Arab women in the Galilee.


To learn more about Kayan and it’s health program supported by Healing Across the Divides, write to info@healingdivides.org

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