Erekat’s Hadassah care must be top priority for Israel – comment

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Treating chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a Jerusalem hospital should serve as a reminder of what it means to be a Jewish state.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat looks on during a news conference following his meeting with foreign diplomats, in Ramallah, West Bank January 30, 2019 (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat looks on during a news conference following his meeting with foreign diplomats, in Ramallah, West Bank January 30, 2019

(photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

Treating chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a Jerusalem hospital should serve as a reminder of what it means to be a Jewish state.

The PLO official was rushed to Hadassah Medical center earlier this week for treatment of COVID-19 complications. On Monday, he was sedated and intubated as his condition worsened. According to the hospital, at press time he was in critical but stable condition.

Social media platforms erupted with many Israelis calling out in a stream of ugly rhetoric against Hadassah for treating him and even demanding that the state let him die.

Several lawmakers condemned Defense Minister Benny Gantz for sanctioning Erekat’s treatment without demanding that Israel receive something in return.

Centrist MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, a member of Gantz’s Blue and White Party, said the country could treat him “but only if it received concessions from the Palestinians” through a policy of “humanitarian aid in return for humanitarian gestures.”

Far-right officials also spoke out.

Likud MK Ariel Kallner tweeted that, “If the Palestinians had invested more in their healthcare system instead of terrorism,” Erekat could have been treated there. “The fact that we give him treatment “is not a sign of morality,” Rather, he said, “it shows weakness.”

Dozens of Israelis from across the political spectrum protested outside the hospital with signs that read, “let him die.”

Should Israel be a state that denies medical treatment? How can it do so if the Jewish state is meant to be a light unto the nations?

The Jewish people are supposed to place pikuach nefesh – saving a life – over all else.

And, in a time of dwindling solidarity and mistrust between sectors, treating one of the country’s foremost enemies should serve as a reminder to the public of what is possible when it comes to social responsibility. If Israeli doctors can treat Erekat, then how much more so should Israelis treat one another with a minimal amount of respect.

“I will make you a light to the gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

ISRAELI MEDICAL teams for decades have been providing humanitarian assistance to countries with the greatest needs – in Asia, Africa, Europe or Iraq – and in the West Bank and Gaza.

During the first and second intifadas and the subsequent Gaza wars, Jewish and Muslim doctors left their politics at the door and entered the country’s busiest emergency rooms to treat both terrorists and victims alike.

During the Syrian Civil War, badly injured Syrians were carried across the border into Israel to be treated at Israeli field hospitals.

“Israel has a heightened sense of humanitarian awareness and responsibility,” according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “With aid teams poised to respond in the wake of natural or man-made disasters anywhere in the world.”

“Neither shall you stand by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16).

It is from the above verse that pikuach nefesh – one of the most basic principles of Jewish law – is derived, which is that the concept of saving a human life overrules any other religious considerations.

Most rabbis agree that this principle applies to saving the lives of Jews and non-Jews alike – possibly Erekat’s, too.

“Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh” – all of Israel are responsible for one another (Talmud, Shevuot 39a).

In 2015, President Reuven Rivlin defined four sectors of Israeli society: secular Jews, national religious, haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and Arabs. At the time, he said these four segments were creating a “cultural and religious identity gap and sometimes an abyss between the mainstreams of each of the camps.”

Since then, the divisions have only deepened and the coronavirus crisis has highlighted this challenge.

The most recent coronavirus survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute found that more than half of the public (69% of Arab-Israelis and 53% of Jews) believe that the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) violated the regulations of the lockdown. This is despite only 1% of haredim believing that their community broke the rules.

The coronavirus crisis has been marked by an increase in violence and domestic violence in particular, as well as an increase in stress, depression and even suicide attempts. But the world has also witnessed many inspiring acts of solidarity in response to corona.

The World Health Organization named the unprecedented collaboration of medical researchers from around the world to develop and test experimental treatments for COVID-19 and a vaccine as the “solidarity trial.”

Erekat receiving care at Hadassah should be a top priority for Israel to help ensure that the nation does not lose its moral compass – and sets a basic standard of ethical action during the coronavirus pandemic.

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