Building understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health




Ruba Dwaik (pictured above with a child) is manager of volunteer drivers at Hebron-based NGO Green Land Society of Health Development. This critical service is helping Palestinians access Israeli hospitals, often for life-saving treatment. We sat down with Ruba to discuss her role and what the future holds.

PR: How difficult has it been to attract volunteer drivers?

Ruba: The real challenge is to reach potential volunteers. For this we need an intensive social media outreach, radio coverage and other forms of publicity. The next challenge is to motivate these potential volunteers.

To do this we try to involve them in one of our organised trips, so they are encouraged to participate. In some cases we find people who want to help but don’t have a car.

PR: What are the main reasons that people choose to become drivers?

Ruba: Some of them want to help when they have relatives who are sick. Some are related to children or patients who died and want to contribute to honour people who helped their family. There are some who feel for the first time that they are doing something valuable for society. We also have volunteers who are already taking a patient, and would like to take another one with them.

PR: Why do some people choose not to be drivers?

Ruba: Lack of backup in case of accident. Or concern that police will intervene if transporting someone in a private car. Some are concerned about the risk of complication with a vulnerable patient while transporting them. For others, especially young people, the difficulty they have of meeting early morning appointments.

There are some people who become emotionally involved and find it hard to deal with sick children. Another factor is an inability to meet fuel costs without subsidy.

PR: What do the drivers know about Project Rozana and its mission?

Ruba: Usually we inform our volunteers about Project Rozana. And we educate them about the key areas where it is involved in building bridges between Palestinians and Israelis through health. This is transporting patients, treating the patients in Israeli hospitals, and training Palestinian healthworkers.

PR: Has the experience changed how the drivers perceive Israel and Israelis?

Ruba: From our observation, yes this has happened. One of our drivers, Ahmad, was injured by the IDF. Since he learned about Project Rozana and joined the volunteer service, he is dealing well with the Israeli drivers who receive and return his patients at the checkpoint.

Also, we hold fun days for volunteers at Murad Tourist Resort near Bethlehem. Both Israeli and Palestinian volunteers meet and realise that the most important thing is to be partners in making children happy and smiling.

Below is a picture of me with a mother and child at a fun day.

PR: How many of the volunteer drivers have personal experience of the transport service, either as patients themselves or through family members who have used or are using the service?

Ruba: We have 131 volunteer drivers. 16 of them had been involved in the past with patients who passed away.

PR: So if currently the number of drivers is 131, looking forward, how many do you anticipate there will be in five years’ time?

Ruba: We hope that in five years we will have 1,000 volunteers.

PR: How has involvement with the transport service impacted on the reputation of Green Land?

Ruba: This service has put Green Land on the map of active NGOs in Hebron and the West Bank. We are working in a sensitive humanitarian field that is needed every day of the year. It has also expanded our public profile well beyond Palestine.

PR: What is your personal experience of working with Project Rozana?

Ruba: Being the coordinator and later, the manager of this project made me realise how close we are with patients and their families. We know how important it is to be a real friend during the hard times, with no other interest than to help a human in need. So we feel we are one family who understands each other.

Also, the thanks and appreciation we get from patients and their families has become our main source of pleasure and satisfaction. That is a very addictive feeling!