Driving Co-existence: Israeli NGO Offers Transportation To Palestinian Cancer Patients

The Road to Recovery volunteers pick up infirmed Palestinians at West Bank checkpoints and drive them to Israeli hospitals for treatment

When Palestinians encounter Israelis, it’s typically soldiers at military checkpoints and the exchanges tend not to be amicable. That, however, was prior to the establishment of The Road to Recovery (TRTR), an Israeli not-for-profit, non-governmental organization whose volunteers drive West Bank-based Palestinian cancer patients—mainly children—to hospitals in Israel.

“A minimum of one hour of peace,” Yuval Roth, founder of TRTR, asserted to The Media Line in reference to the ride-sharing, life-saving service. “The significance of Israeli volunteers escorting Palestinian patients to hospitals isn’t about transportation, rather it is about the process of people who live under very different circumstances meeting each other. There is no other way than through communication to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Roth started TRTR twelve years ago after his brother Eric was killed when disguised Hamas members attacked his car. “I lost my brother, but not my mind,” he explained, contending that his impulse to subsequently promote co-existence should be deemed normal “if we [Israelis and Palestinians] are looking for a better future for our next generation.

“We must put our feelings aside and deal with the reality,” Roth affirmed.

TRTR has recruited volunteers in many locations across Israel, so when Palestinians call the organization with a request, an Israeli civilian can promptly be dispatched to a nearby checkpoint. Using their personal vehicles, TRTR volunteers drive the patient, whom they are unlikely to have ever previously met, free-of-charge to a local hospital.

As regards the cost of the treatment itself, health grants provided by the Palestinian Authority cover both the hospital visit and associated medications. According to a World Health Organization report, about 4,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed each year among the Palestinian population.

“Hopefully in the next five months we will expand in Palestine to make it easier on the patients by providing them with transportation from their homes to the checkpoints,” Roth revealed in reference to plans to recruit Palestinian volunteers as well.

In this respect, the TRTR founder made clear that he will not allow the meaning of his work to be distorted by any party, which is why he has repeatedly turned down invitations by Israel’s Foreign Ministry to make presentations about his organization at international events. “This isn’t a public relations effort for Israel, rather it’s a life-saving process,” Roth stressed, before noting that he “did offer to speak about the importance of ending the occupation.”

Despite his aversion to Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, Roth nevertheless commended both the IDF and The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)—a unit of the Israeli Ministry of Defense that oversees civilian issues in the Palestinian territories—for facilitating TRTR’s efforts. “They issue patients special medical permits and allow them to enter Israel from a different gate to save time and effort,” he said.

For its part, COGAT told The Media Line that in 2017 more than 300,000 crossings from the West Bank into Israel were permitted for medical-related purposes. Additionally, ambulances are made available for the urgent transfer of patients and their families on a daily basis.

COGAT highlighted, however, that “due to Hamas attempts to take advantage of the civil steps for terror purposes, there is a need for security checks to ensure that their entry is not a security risk.” In this respect, it noted an occurrence last year in which two sisters who received licenses for medical treatment in Israel were caught carrying explosives.

Naeem Al-Baida, TRTR’s West Bank Coordinator, reinforced the importance of helping cancer-stricken Palestinians, many of whom lack the money and know-how to travel independently in Israel. “These families need help, even if it is from the enemy,” stated Baida, whose son, incidentally, is imprisoned in Israel.

Accordingly, he denounced those who criticize his work as an example of “normalization,” making clear that there is nothing wrong with accepting humanitarian assistance from any source. “We are not negotiating political deals, there are politicians for that,” Baida contended, “rather we are saving lives and creating peace.”

Fakhri Abu Lehye agrees, given that TRTR volunteers have over the past three years regularly driven his son Akram to Tel Aviv’s Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital, where he is being treated for a rare type of blood cancer. “I was really lost and confused at the beginning,” Abu Lehye related to The Media Line, “how am I going to help my son?”

The first step, as it turns out, was getting a much-needed grant from the Palestinian Authority, which a relative helped him secure. Thereafter, a neighbor told Abu Lehye about TRTR and he immediately called Al-Baida, who offered assistance. Today, Akram is recovering from the disease, taking only oral medication after recently finishing chemotherapy.

“I never imagined that Israelis would help us, I was shocked how they treat my son as if he was their own,” Abu Lehye concluded. “My experience with TRTR has given me more hope that the two peoples can treat each other well.”

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