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Dr. Raid Haj Yehia

Monday 25 May 2015

Raid was born in 1966 in Taibeh, a town in central Israel, where he grew up and attended high school. After high school he studied medicine in Warsaw, Poland. After obtaining his medical degree he went on to specialize as a pediatician and neonatologist in Jerusalem, at Bikur Holim and Hadassah hospitals. After his studies he spent a year in Equatorial Guinea, where he was the medical director at La Paz Hospital. He worked for the General Health Fund (an Israeli HMO) and today he manages three medical centers in East Jerusalem.

Besides obtaining his medical degree, he also studies Law and obtained his LLB degree in 2012.

Raid first heard of WAS-NS during his high school years, during which he attended a workshop of the School for Peace. Afterwards he took part in several more SFP workshops and remained in contact with the Village. He says that he loved the idea that “people of different religions had chosen to live and work together lovingly”. In 1997, he applied to become a member of the village. However, it took another 15 years before he was able to realize that dream. After building a beautiful home in the village, he came to live here in 2012. Not everything proceeded according to plan. He and his ex-wife, a gynecologist, were divorced shortly before he came to live in the village. Their two children, Karin (17) and Kamil (14) were already too old for the WAS-NS school. Today, they spend half a week in the village, while in the daytime attending international schools in Jerusalem. Karin attends the American School, while Kamil attends the French school.

One of the connections he maintained with WASNS, even before coming to live in it, was through its Humanitarian Aid Project, where he would volunteer on treatment days and continues to be involved. However, Raid’s main voluntary endeavor has been with the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, of which he is today a board member. He has been with PHR since 2002.

As part of his PHR work, he joins other doctors once a week in a mobile clinic, visiting remote West Bank villages and refugee camps. The team of doctors, who are qualified in several essential areas like orthopedic and cardiovascular surgery, neurology, neuro-surgery, pediatrics, neonatology, and others, provide medical consultations and distribute medicines. When necessary they try to arrange for further treatment in hospitals, either those of the PA or of Israel. [1]

Conditions in the West Bank are not as terrible as those of Gaza. Raid has been visiting Gaza too, since 2007, about once every three months. Arranging permits to Gaza is often complicated, requiring the agreement of the Palestinian Ministry of Health and the hospitals. Raid and the other PHR doctors therefore make visits that last several days at a stretch, spending time in hospitals and community clinics.

Raid’s visits to Gaza have been both in times of relative quiet and during military campaigns. He was there during the war of December 2008- January 2009 and again during the summer of 2014 (see article on the WASNS site).

He says that his motive for going to Gaza is simply to help. “That’s what’s good about this profession,” he says. “As a doctor, the group identity of the patient is not important to me.” When Jerusalem experienced a spate of suicide bombings, in the mid 2000s, he also treated many Jewish victims. “I never consider who it is that I’m treating – I treat everyone equally,” he says.

Volunteerism has been important to Raid from childhood, at his school and in the Scouts. The urge to help others was an important motivation in choosing a profession. After his studies, he saw that he had acquired a skill that could be of value in helping people, and this gives him considerable satisfaction.

Another kind of volunteer work he does is to accompany groups of Jewish Israeli high school students on their senior-year school trips to the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. This began in 2008 at the request of a deputy principal of a school in the Jerusalem suburbs. Raid’s knowledge of Polish (from his student days in Warsaw) comes in handy. Initially, the students feel a little strange to be accompanied by a Polish-speaking Arab doctor, but they quickly overcome that. He has been on three such trips, once every two years.

Raid does not seem to be daunted by the confrontation with human misery either of the past or in the present. Asked whether he doesn’t sometimes lose hope, he gives a careful response.

“I’m generally optimistic. But when you see the huge number of war casualties; when you meet people who have lost their entire families – or witness the terrible conditions under which they are living, from year to year, it does sometimes affect my optimism. The people in Gaza are in a kind of jail. They suffer all the time. They want to live and study, but they’ve been living like this for eight years or more.”

“What we see in this conflict is that people lose their sense of proportion: it doesn’t matter to them what happens to the other side, as long as they can feel safe. On the Israeli side I hear opinions that Gaza should be wiped out. The majority understand that there is great suffering in Gaza but remain indifferent.”

“Eventually,” Raid says, “there is always hope. The spirit of humanity will come through. The good, human side will win.”

Asked whether he manages to communicate this optimism to his children, he says that he hopes so. His daughter is already engaging in volunteer work herself. And his son accompanies him on his mobile clinic days to West Bank villages. “But they sometimes ask hard questions, especially during times of war, about what they see in the news, or when I return from Gaza. And there are questions about more trivial matters too, such as the attitudes of soldiers at the checkpoints and at the airport. He tells how, before a recent plane ride to Eilat, his son had his laptop confiscated by airport security. It still hasn’t been returned.

“I explain that we are a minority, that there is a conflict, and that politics is the cause. I say that they see us as a potential threat and so they are scared of us. I tell them that nevertheless, we will continue to struggle for our rights.”

Raid seems to share the same kind of “active optimism” that is expressed by the village in which he has made his home, i.e. it is less of a mood than a modus vivendi / a way of life. Being confident about an outcome is less relevant than the investment put into making it possible. And Raid’s own investment of time and energy seems to issue from an unquenchable source.

Thanks to Raid for the photos. All except the one of his son Kamil (in doctor’s uniform), were taken in Gaza.


Dr. Raid's son helping on a medical treatment day.


[1Raid comments that Palestinian villages and refugee camps often lack access to specialized doctors. Palestinian hospitals themselves are weak in certain areas like cardio-surgery, oencology, and complicated problems. Asked about the quality of medical treatment available in the West Bank, Raid says that it is at a reasonable level, and the hospitals are quite good, except for some areas in which specialization is required. One of the problems is that dispersal of services is not equal throughout the P.A., so people in distant villages are often less well served. Infant mortality in the West Bank is 1.5 times higher than in Israel and other indicators, such as the number of patients per doctor and the number of hospital beds available per capita, are also poorer. A serious budgeting deficit results in a lack of equipment and sometimes in long delays in payment of salaries to doctors. There is no universal public medical insurance in the West Bank, and sometimes patients are turned away from hospitals because they are unable to pay. Those who work in the public sector often better provided for. Patients are sometimes able to get reimbursement for work done in Israeli hospitals when procedures are absent in Israeli hospitals. Sometimes PHR itself manages to raise sufficient funds.

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