In the 1980s, "enemy" physicians and other health professionals took citizen leadership in cooling and ending the wasteful Cold War that terribly threatened all life on Earth.
     International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, with Physicians for Social Responsibility and others, were driving forces to rise over political barriers like the Iron Curtain to model cooperation.
     They took their political leaders and citizens by the hands to show them the health and financial dangers of pursuing war.
     By their model, the world's health providers -- citizens with vision and  powered the change from confrontation to collaboration.

     December 7, 2004 was the birth of "bridges," the first Israeli-Palestinian Public Health magazine.
     Bridges promotes the exchange of public health information and cooperative ventures of common interest between the Palestinian and Israeli public health professionals.
     Bridges disseminates the newest medical guidelines and best practices along with news of relationship-building activities.
     The magazine embodies Health as a Bridge for Peace," illustrating the interrelatedness of peace-building and health care for the good of all.
     It is a shining example of steadily growing choices of Jewish and Arab citizens to engage, relate, cooperate, create -- refusing to be "enemies," refusing to disengage.
     bridges: Israeli-Palestinian Public Health Magazine can be seen at:

     Where you live, Connect and Change.  Connect and Change. 
     And Create.
                -- L&L

 Published by The Jewish Week -- 06 October 2005 -- New York, NY
On the Web at

Mideast Doctors Without Borders
Against long odds, a small medical journal survives as
an example of a slowly growing number of coexistence projects.
Steve Lipman - Staff Writer

     On a side street in the eastern part of this divided city, a small conference room on the second floor of an office building was supposed to serve as a symbol of a unique Israeli-Palestinian initiative founded by the World Health Organization last year.
     Two Jewish and two Arab physicians, who comprise the editorial board of bridges, a glossy bimonthly public health magazine distributed to members of both communities, would meet around a small table each Wednesday afternoon reviewing articles and planning forthcoming issues.
     The Israeli and Palestinian colleagues still share responsibilities equally and cordially on the publication, but the reality of the Middle East intrudes.
     Often there are empty seats at the table because of Israeli army roadblocks, a frequent occurrence during the cycles of intifada violence, the Palestinian physicians coming from the West Bank or Gaza cant get to Jerusalem.
     On one recent Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Hani Abdeen, dean of the Al-Quds Medical School, showed up late, and Dr. Fahti Abumoghli, WHOs national health officer for the West Bank and Gaza, never arrived, detained at a border checkpoint.
     We have many barriers, Abdeen says.
     But echoing the opinions of Jews and non-Jews associated with bridges, which carries articles in English, Hebrew and Arabic, Abdeen says despite the logistic problems, the glossy magazine continues to serve as an example of coexistence and cooperation.
     He says Jewish-Arab friendships have grown out of the physicians work together, and bridges brings information about vital health issues to the attention of doctors and political leaders on both sides of the Green Line.
     Diseases have no borders, says Maria Restrepo, project officer for the West Bank and Gaza for WHO, the public health arm of the United Nations.
     The magazine, believed to be the first such public health journal jointly produced by representatives of two peoples in conflict, is among a slowly growing number of joint Israeli-Palestinian activities that have survived the intifada or begun in recent years, says Shuli Dichter, co-director of Sikkuy, the Jerusalem-based Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality. They include a cooperative health seminar recently at the United Nations.  
    Its more than just isolated projects, he says.
     While bridges is a WHO creation, most of the projects are home grown, supported by Israelis and Palestinians, Dichter says.
     Its not imposed from the outside, he says. There are people on both sides who are interested in maintaining contact.
     While small-scale efforts like bridges or the All for Peace radio station (see box) are unlikely to change the tenor of the wider society, they can establish benchmarks for the politicians to follow, Dichter says. His organization concentrates on advocacy for Israeli Arabs, but monitors programs across the Green Line.
     People learn and relate to examples, to models, he says. Whoever wants to be inspired is inspired.
     Many cooperative projects were established in the years immediately after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, but not many of survived after the [start of] the intifada in 2000, Dichter says, adding that tens of projects, maybe a hundred, in such areas as education, agriculture and business are conducted between Israelis and Palestinians, often with little publicity.
     Its the best-kept secret here, he says. There are more initiatives on the ground here than funding for them.
     Most of the joint projects are based, on the Israeli side, at universities or organizations like the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute or the Peres Center for Peace.
     One of the main lessons learned from the failure of the Oslo peace process is that the people-to-people public peace process received much too little attention and far too little financial support, Gershon Baskin and Zakaria al-Qaq, leaders of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, a nongovernmental organization engaged in dialogue work, wrote in a 2003 letter to President Bush. The need and the demand for continuing and expanding these activities are very real.

Peace Through Health

     The most recent example of medicines role as a conduit across the regions warring political atmosphere took place last week at the United Nations.
     Peace Through Health Middle East Partnership in Emergency Medical Care, a 3-year-old program that has quietly trained nearly 300 Israelis, Palestinians and Americans physicians, nurses and social workers conducted a panel discussion, its first public activity.
     We do not pretend to make the peace between Israelis and Palestinians, says Dr. Jacob Assaf, director of emergency medicine at Hadassah Medical Center and a leader of the cooperative program. But what we think is that medicine is one of the best bridges that can be used to bridge over gaps in this conflict.
     Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, chief executive officer of Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem, says there is a culture of peace that is building. The programs goal is to create stories of success for people on both sides.
     Its very nice to see because weve always been stigmatized by the culture of violence, he says, referring to the Palestinians.
     Hadassah and Augusta Victoria have worked together on the venture in partnership with the prestigious Brigham and Womens Hospital in Boston.
     At the UN forum, sponsored by Hadassah and the U.S. mission to the world body, participants described the joint efforts in such areas as curriculum development, budget procedures and emergency medicine training.
     The organizers said they are prepared to establish a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian institute, which will require at least $10 million in funding.
     Like bridges, the Peace Through Health program hopes to influence relations in the wider Middle East, the organizers said.

Bridging The Conflict

     Israeli and Palestinian physicians supported the creation of bridges, the idea for which was broached by WHO a few months before Yasir Arafat died last year, Restrepo says.
     It wasnt hard to find people to be part of the editorial board, she recalls. Everyone felt the need for it.
     In addition to its editorial board, bridges is guided as well by a 22-member advisory board half Israeli, half Palestinian. It has no connection to either the Palestinian Authority or the Israeli government.
     In recent years, war has been framed as a public health problem, Dr. Ambrogio Manenti, head of WHOs West Bank and Gaza office, wrote in the first issue of bridges in January. Indeed, war (including long-term low-grade conflict) affects human health both directly through the violence of bombs and bullets, and indirectly by disrupting economic and social systems that address health needs.
     Field experience shows that health-related goals may be shared among conflicting parties, providing the necessary basis for cooperation, Manenti wrote. This may create an opportunity to build a framework for negotiation to counteract the stereotypic dehumanization of the other, and even to demonstrate the possibility of ending violence and oppression.
     It is too early to determine what effect a small, specialized, low-circulation publication like bridges can have on wider Israeli-Palestinian relations, says Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, medical writer for The Jerusalem Post. She covered the magazines founding.
     I was a little worried that some of the Palestinian voices [in the first issue] were a little extreme, Siegel-Itzkovich says, adding that she has not closely read subsequent issues. It may make an impression on people who had little contact with the other side of the political divide. It depends how open-minded the people are.
     Articles in bridges, usually focusing on health topics, frequently reflect the founders optimistic political orientation.
     In a war-torn region such as the Middle East, in which we keep producing more wounds to heal every day, the importance of medical staff cooperation can no be overrated, Noa Vardi, a medical student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in Learning to Listen Through Deafness, an article in the current issue.
     As future doctors, we have to understand that a patient is a patient wherever he or she is, and above all to join our efforts and resources to promote research of regional medical problems and cooperative ways to treat these problems. We do this in the hope that our cooperation will someday lead to a shared and peaceful life.
     In a bridges article earlier this year, an official from the Jordanian Ministry of Health wrote: I think we as professionals can do more than politicians can. I hope the politicians can learn from us.
     The article described a five-day gathering of 35 Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli health-care professionals.
     Recent articles in the publication include such topics as mi cronutrient deficiencies in the region, Palestinian Women: Reproductive Health and Human Rights, Womens Health in Israel: Progress and Gaps, Armed Conflict and Food Security and Poverty and Social Services in the Palestinian Society.
     Every issue features two day-in-the-life profiles, a story about a Jewish doctor or nurse written by a Palestinian journalist, and vice versa.
     Writers, cognizant of the magazines guiding philosophy, have editorial freedom to express their communities perspectives, and often do so some Palestinians, predictably, writing about the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian society, Abdeen says.
     Its an open forum, he says. Everyone can say exactly what he feels from his point of view.
     Readers mostly health-care professionals, journalists, politicians, teachers and officials in nongovernmental organizations express mixed opinions about the magazine, Abdeen says. Some applaud the effort. Some criticize its editorial openness; its too pro-Israeli or too pro-Palestinian. Some ask why writers from the respective communities air our dirty laundry in public.
     I always tell our friends that if we are criticized by both sides, we are doing well, says Dr. Itzhak Levav, a bridges editorial board member and WHO consultant.
     Levav and Abdeen, sitting at the table in the WHO suite a block from the unmarked border with West Jerusalem, banter with the easy familiarity of old friends, two men of the same middle-aged generation and professional background.
     Both sides have learned from each other, they say.
     Levav says that through his work with bridges, I became more aware of Palestinian public health issues. I didnt know the extent of some of the health problems faced by the Palestinian population.
     The publication has enlightened quite a lot of the Palestinians, Abdeen says. Many had thought there is no poverty in Israel.
     WHO, which has assisted Palestinian refugees for five decades and worked with the Palestinian Authoritys Ministry of Health since 1993, now concentrating on emergency assistance, has reached out in other ways to increase contact among health-care professionals in the region. It recently sponsored two videoconferences that linked physicians in Israel, the territories, Jordan and other countries.
     This is not just another telemedicine, Dr. Yehuda Roth, Israeli deputy director of the Canada International Scientific Exchange Program, a co-sponsor of the videoconferences, told The Jerusalem Post. This is an advanced and sophisticated tool, with a great vision and huge potential power. We hope it will serve as a salient adjuvant, as a peace-building component and as a technological support for our anxious societies.
     Technology may serve bridges, too. The magazine is considering holding its Wednesday afternoon editorial board meetings by videoconference when border closings prevent the Palestinian physicians from attending.