Shortly after Healing Across the Divides began its work, the Israeli army had placed boulders at the entrance to Sinjil—a Palestinian town in the central West Bank—blocking it off from the outside world. A local Palestinian woman contacted me, persistently urging me to “tell President Bush to end the occupation.” And doing everything possible within my realm of control, I asked, “How can we work together to improve your health so that you will live to see the end of the occupation?”
Healing Across the Divides is based on the simple idea that all humans desire good health. And it was created because all Americans are engaged in the Middle East conflict, as Israel is the greatest recipient of United States foreign aid, and because I felt my own personal fate was somewhat tied to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Today in Israel and Palestine, there are:
- Palestinians in the West Bank with significant mental health conditions, living under constant fear of attack;
- Palestinians and Ethiopian Jews with high rates of diabetes and difficulty accessing adequate medical care;
- Low-income Jews living in the Negev with poor nutrition;
- Bedouin women suffering from high rates of intimate partner violence; and
- Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women with low rates of breast cancer screening.
As an organization, Healing Across the Divides is committed to improving the health of marginalized Israelis and all Palestinians via community-based interventions. This mission is accomplished by funding local community groups, helping to increase their effectiveness. In its 16 years, the organization has measurably impacted the lives of more than 200,000 marginalized Israelis and Palestinians.
Throughout each grant cycle, Healing Across the Divides brings together local community groups to exchange ideas and generate interest in working together. And this approach to community collaboration, as well as emphasis on community-based interventions, represents a path to peace building.
Many years ago, our Israeli and Palestinian community partners began meeting together, about twice per year, in East Jerusalem. I’ll never forget the look of amazement and happiness at the first meeting of two women—an Israeli woman from Yeruham in Southern Israel and a Palestinian woman from Nablus in the northern West Bank—both of them working on related gender-based issues. Yeruham and Nablus are about two hours driving distance from each other… and the sad reality is that most people from Yeruham would never dream of going to Nablus, and vice versa. And yet, community collaboration through Healing Across the Divides was able to make this happen.
Healing Across the Divides is the only nonprofit organization that provides health-related funding and technical assistance to both Palestinian and Israeli communities, as well as the only one to foster this type of health collaboration. Through community-based interventions addressing health, our local partners are serving as peace builders, and ultimately, as healers.
**Feature photo provided and used with permission from author Norbert Goldfield & Healing Across the Divides.
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Norbert Goldfield, MD, is a Primary Care Physician at a community health center in Springfield, Massachusetts, as well as Founder & Executive Director of both Healing Across the Divides and Ask Nurses & Doctors. Prior to 2016, he spent thirty years as Medical Director of a research group that developed tools that linked payment with better quality care. Dr. Goldfield is the author of Peace Building Through Women’s Health: Psychoanalytic, Sociopsychological, and Community Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, to be published by Routledge in April 2021, and he also edits the Journal of Ambulatory Care Management.