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Peace, One EMT at a Time

Peace, One EMT at a Time

January 15, 2010

Medical Research, Social Sciences & Humanities

Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, but that hasn’t meant relations between the citizens of the two countries have, in most cases, been anything more than lukewarm. Over the past 15 years, three men — and the students who have followed in their path — have been trying to change that.

A program called Partnerships to Peace began through McGill University’s Middle East department; from the fruits of that effort, seeds have been planted to start another that has brought together Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians to train together as emergency medical technicians at Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel.

This past October saw the launch of the first cohort of students of the Israel-Jordan Academic Emergency Medicine Collaboration, the first of its kind, that brought 15 Jordanians to Beer-Sheva to join with Israeli and Palestinian students to study for bachelor’s degrees in emergency medical technology.

The program, a collaboration between Ben-Gurion University and the Jordan Red Crescent, is the brainchild of a triumvirate that descended from the peace program: An American, an Israeli, and a Jordanian.

The Jordanian, Dr. Mohammed al-Hadid, and the American, Prof. James Torczyner, came through Seattle in December to spread the word about the program and solicit funds to keep it going. The Israeli, Jimmy Weinblatt, serves as rector of Ben-Gurion University.

Though the three know each other from their work on Partnerships to Peace, al-Hadid is better known as president of Jordan Red Crescent and, since 2003, as chairman of the standing body of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent relief organization. He is also a member of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Jordan.

Al-Hadid’s platform for getting elected to the international relief organization was to obtain full membership status for both Israel and the Palestinian territories, both of which had been excluded since Israel’s founding.

“It took so much work from 2003 until 2006,” al-Hadid said. “I chaired the international conference in 2006 in Geneva, and in that conference we were able to admit and recognize both national societies, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the Israeli Magen David Adom.”

Parallel to those efforts, al-Hadid had been trying since the late 1990s to bring Israeli and Jordanian paramedics together to train in the event of a natural disaster — something not unprecedented in the region, as a 2004 earthquake near the Dead Sea could attest.

“The area we live in, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, it’s an area that is prone to earthquakes,” he said, “so it’s only natural that we are all prepared as a team rather than individually, which would be better to face a disaster of this magnitude.”

During one of his visits to Beer-Sheva, he visited the medical facilities at Ben-Gurion and decided he would like to see aspiring paramedics from his country train at the university’s advanced facilities.

“Magen David Adom, they are the best in the region when it comes to first aid and paramedics,” al-Hadid said.

“They have been involved in so many incidents [and] emergencies, so I thought it would be good to get some of this experience and give it to our Jordanian students.”

Al-Hadid joined with Torczyner and Weinblatt to get the program started, and included Palestinian students as well.

“Never before has a cohort from an Arab country enrolled in a program at an Israeli university. That’s a real first, and…their degrees will be recognized,” Torczyner said. But they don’t want to stop at just Jordan and the Palestinians.

“The next step in our ambition is to make it an international program where other Arab countries could also be joining the program and send their students,” al-Hadid said. Torczyner said Morocco and Tunisia have already expressed interest.

What makes Ben-Gurion’s EMS program unique in general is that Israel is one of only three countries to offer a bachelor’s degree in emergency medical technology. The U.S. and Australia are the two others.

While Jordan offers EMS certificates, fewer training hours are required to obtain the certification and the graduates are not qualified to perform intubations, injections or defibrillation. The additional training could save more lives, al-Hadid said.

While training is classroom-based, al-Hadid said, much of it is based upon real-world simulations, “like in a war zone.”

The program’s organizers hope that bringing the three nationalities of students together will provide more than an education in emergency medicine, however. Like the program from which it descended, the trainees spend many hours together and most commit to sharing the same values as the McGill program.

“In the program that we have at McGill University, there [are] very good relations between the Palestinians and the Israelis working together, even in the West Bank,” al-Hadid said, even in the aftermath of last year’s Gaza war. “You don’t find this anywhere because we were like a family.” Torczyner agrees.

“If you work from a position of shared values and commonalities, you discover that people prefer to work together than apart, and they develop all kinds of relationships,” he said. “And that’s what happened here.”

Al-Hadid in particular has received criticism from the Arab media for visiting Israel to accept an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion for his humanitarian work. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood said on TV that doing so brought shame upon his family,

“Fine. So what? I went, I accepted it, I got back. If you’re going to be discouraged by every person, you might as well just stay at home,” al-Hadid said. “We have a treaty with Israelis, so what’s the difference with working with them?”

Reprinted from JT News, Seattle: www.jtnews.net