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 17 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. This approach to community collaboration, as well as emphasis on community-based interventions, represents a path to peace building.
The most recent initiatives funded in December 2021 exemplify this approach of addressing challenging health issues while bringing groups together, as desired by the grantees themselves, on a regular basis. December 2021 grantees include the following:
Palestine Sports for Life: Intervention to address nutrition in Palestinian refugee camps
Palestine Sports for Life (PS4L) is headquartered in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank and “responds to developmental needs in the marginalized Palestinian communities through sport & life skills and empowers youth & women by operating in a global context and aligning its developmental activities and programs with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” PS4L also provides community health programs for all age groups, though within the refugee camps in Palestine, most interventions focus on humanitarian needs without a major focus on health behavior. Therefore, with the grant from Healing Across the Divides, PS4L will implement nutritional health and wellness programs in three schools, in refugee camps with high rates of child malnutrition and impoverishment.
Al Majd for Community Development: Intervention to address psychosocial status and mental health in Jenin, northern West Bank
The overall objective of this intervention is to enhance the psychosocial and mental health of Palestinian children and their families living in Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank. During the Second Intifada in 2002, the “Israeli military occupied Jenin Camp after ten days of intensive fighting, destroying more than 400 houses, severely damaging hundreds more, and displacing more than a quarter of the camp’s population.” And the people of Jenin endure ongoing trauma from the Israeli occupation.
In collaboration with the Palestinian Ministries of Health and Education, Al Majd will develop and launch a train-the-trainer intervention that addresses emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At the end of these workshops, participants will be able to identify depression, PTSD, and other chronic mental health problems, as well as gain tools to reduce stigma.
Lada’at—Your Body, Your Rights: Intervention to promote sexual & reproductive health among women in East Jerusalem
Lada’at—Choose Well “envisions a society in which sexuality is perceived as an inherently positive and integral part of human nature, where all individuals have full access to reliable information and services enabling them to live out their sexuality based on conscious choice” and whose mission is to “ensure that all individuals are informed and empowered to make and implement conscious, healthy, safe, and authentic choices regarding sexuality and reproductive health.”
Founded in 1976 and based in Jerusalem, Lada’at—Choose Well serves nearly 6,500 persons annually, including religious and secular Jews, Arabs, African asylum seekers, foreign workers, and tourists. Lada’at provides in-person counseling via the Mobile Counseling Unit, telephone and online counseling, educational programming, as well as affects policy change on the local and national levels.
Palestinian women in East Jerusalem face unique challenges when it comes to family planning and reproductive rights. To facilitate sustainable, long-term change with a strong multiplier effect, the grant-funded intervention by Healing Across the Divides will promote sexual & reproductive health among three groups:
- Professionals in East Jerusalem will receive supplementary training on sexual & reproductive health, including healthcare providers, social workers, and educators (50 women and men);
- Volunteer counselors from the East Jerusalem community will be trained to provide culturally sensitive counseling and support to women in East Jerusalem (6-10 counselors); and
- Women in the East Jerusalem community will be reached via in-person educational and awareness activities, as well as through social media, providing knowledge on family planning and reproductive rights (150-300 women).
A recent New York Times article highlights the opportunities and challenges of this initiative:
When Nour Emam decided to devote herself to educating Arab women about their bodies, the subject was so taboo that one of her first challenges was figuring out how to pronounce the word “clitoris” in Arabic. “I had never heard it,” said Ms. Emam, 29, a women’s health activist from Cairo. “No one uses it, so there’s nowhere to find the right way to say it.” After careful research, now she knows, and so do her hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, where she hosts one of the leading platforms for sex education in the Arab world.
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. Successful initiatives have the potential to bring groups together, across different cultures, to exchange ideas and (potentially) work together. This approach to bringing groups together, with a focus on community-based interventions addressing health, represents a path to peace building—that is, 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.