Israeli, 39 years

Participant in an exchange program for Israelis and Palestinians who work with disabled children

“As an Israeli citizen, I do not meet Arabs from the Palestinian territories. There are not many chances to talk to them. For me, participating in this project meant getting to know the people on the other side, in the occupied territories. Who are they, how do they live there? It struck me that they have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy, from the Israeli side, the Palestinian side and the combination between them. This creates a lot of uncertainty for them: will they get the medical treatments, the equipment, the visa for the volunteers from abroad?

I also learned we have a powerful safety net in Israel. I really was not aware of that. If a child has special needs, there will always be a care home or facility the parents can turn to. Of course, we need more money, but still. It was sad and shocking for me to see what happens when this type of care is not available, or at least not enough. A lot of Palestinian parents try to take good care of their disabled children, but others may end up mistreating their child. Not because they want to, but because of a lack of money, knowledge and appropriate institutions.

This difference was something I felt very strongly about. It made me look deeper into the political situation. I think that politically, each side is responsible for the situation in their own way. As an Israeli citizen, I think we have a responsibility to the people who live in the Palestinian territories. Because I feel I might be able to help, I would like to help where I can and am needed.

On a professional level, I was impressed by the quality of the facilities in some of the institutions. Other institutions are lacking. The same is true for education: there is a huge difference in the level of knowledge between the Palestinians, which made it challenging for us to teach them. I hope we at least provided them with some other ways of thinking. In my work, we try to help each individual to take part as much as they can in day-to-day life, whether it is eating, having a shower or playing. That means there is a lot of teamwork between our caregivers and various therapists.

While they do not have the same tools and education in the Palestinian territories, I was really impressed by how much they can do just by following their intuition. It is amazing to see that even without a large amount of knowledge, you can connect with heavily disabled children and do a lot of good. They really work from the heart.

I do not think we will stay in touch after the project ends. It was really special to meet each other, but we did not become friends. To start with, the language is a huge barrier. We would need a Hebrew-Arabic translator. That is not going to work if you just want to send a message via Whatsapp. It is also very complicated to meet one another. They need a visa to visit Israel, and I cannot just walk in there like a Jewish friend. Neighbours might start talking. I also noticed this during the project. The Palestinian institutions where okay with us, but after a while, the parents of the disabled children started asking questions. We are the occupier. That is the reality.”