April 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
 
The April 18-24th “Arts and Faith” show at the Robert Kidd Gallery has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus epidemic. Stay tuned for a rescheduling down the road.
May 27th WISDOM General Membership meeting and Installation dinner
See Flyer Below

WISDOM announces slate of officers and
board members for 2020-2021
WISDOM will elect its incoming board at its annual meeting, scheduled for May 27. If the meeting is cancelled because of the ongoing health crisis, the election will be held via email.
All WISDOM members in good standing (those who have paid their 2020 dues) are eligible to vote. The slate is listed below.
Nominated for two-year terms as officers are the following:
President: Teri Weingarden
Vice Presidents, Board Development: Paula Drewek and Patricia Harris
Vice Presidents, Membership: Bobbie Lewis and Shama Mehta
Vice Presidents, Programming: Sameena Basha and Ayesha Khan
Vice Presidents, Public Relations/Marketing: Karin Dains and Gail Katz
We will not have a designated treasurer this year; Teri Weingarden and Trish Harris will take care of the necessary tasks.
We will also not have a designated secretary this year; all board members will rotate in fulfilling the secretary’s role.
General board members continuing their service are the Rev. Dr. Rose Cooper, Uzma Sharaf and the Rev. Carolyn Simon.
New members nominated to the board are:
  • Rev. Stancy Adams of Bloomfield Hills, Baptist, associate pastor at Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church and chair of the Interfaith Leadership Council.
  • Mary Gilhouly of Oak Park, Roman Catholic, an artist and designer and co-founder of Song & Spirit Institute for Peace
  • Suzanne Levin of Pleasant Ridge; Jewish, a retired physician assistant
  • Reem Saleh of Dearborn, Muslim, a hospice social worker
  • Rev. Diane Van Marter of Detroit, United Methodist, pastor of Faith Macomb United Methodist Church
Members who have questions about the slate or the election should contact Bobbie Lewis, WISDOM’s current president, at blewis14140@gmail.com.

PRAYERS AND POEMS FOR THE PANDEMIC FROM DIFFERENT FAITHS

Dear Friends:
Who could have ever imagined that we’d be all going through such an experience like this pandemic? It seems that every life is impacted in one way or another. May our eyes, ears and hearts be opened in new ways to be a supportive community of hope and love.
Here is a prayer a friend recently sent that may encourage us to keep a larger perspective during this time.
And may this find you safe and healthy.
Prayer for the Pandemic
May those who are merely inconvenienced
        remember others whose lives are at stake.
May some who have no risk factors
        remember those who are vulnerable.
May people who have the luxury of working from home
        remember those who must choose between
             preserving their health or paying the rent.
May some who have the flexibility to care for their children when the schools close
          remember others who have no options.
May some who have to cancel trips
          remember others who have no safe place to go.
May those who are losing their margin money
          in the tumult of the economic market
           remember the many who have no margin at all.
May some who settle in for a quarantine at home
           remember all those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
           let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other
           let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
Amen
 
Adapted from a prayer sent on Facebook by Michael Anthony Smith
Kate Thoresen, Coordinator, Faith Communities Coalition on Foster Care
1669 West Maple Road
Birmingham, MI 48009; 248.835.8151

“Pandemic” by Lynn Ungar
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath –
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel
Cease from buying and selling
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those whom you commit your life.
Center down.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love —
for better of for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live
Shabbat Shalom

Brother Richard Hendrick, a Capuchin Franciscan Friar living in Ireland, has penned a touching poem about coronavirus. Brother Richard shared his poem “Lockdown” in a Facebook post on Friday, March 13th. His original post received more than 19k positive reactions and was shared more than 34k times.
LOCKDOWN
Yes, there is fear.
Yes, there is isolation.
Yes, there is panic buying.
Yes, there is sickness.
Yes, there is even death.
But, they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise,
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet,
The sky is no longer thick with fumes,
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know is busy
spreading fliers with her number through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, and Temples are preparing to welcome and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting.
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way.
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality.
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
but there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be a disease of the soul.
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of you panic.
The birds are singing again.
The sky is clearing, Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able to touch across the empty square,
SING!

God is our Refuge
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
(from Psalm 46)
Peace, Sharon Buttry

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and grew gardens full of fresh food, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
“And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
“And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”
~Kitty O’Meara

STOP: An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans
Kristin Flyntz wrote the following poetic letter from the Virus to us all. She is the Content Editorial Director for Ascensus. —
 Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.
We will bring the supersonic, high speed merry-go-round to a halt
We will stop
the planes
the trains
the schools
the malls
the meetings
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our
single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.
We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa,China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.
Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?
Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you.
Instead, let it speak to you-in your stillness,
listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk,
beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health,
what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky,
and all of us who share this planet with you?
Stop.
Notice if you are resisting.
Notice what you are resisting.
Ask why.
Stop. Just stop..
Be still.
Listen.
Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.
     —— Kristin Flyntz

Prayer by Cameron Bellam, who describes herself as a “Writer of Prayers.” In an article by Tom Roberts in the National Catholic Reporter.
May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country, let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be loving embrace of God to our neighbors.

Representation or Stereotype: Women in Art at the
Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)
As a women’s interfaith group committed to examining and dispelling stereotypes and misrepresentations of women in the world around us, we women of WISDOM were curious: –Just how are women portrayed in art at the DIA? I’m sure this is not the first time this question has been asked, but Wisdom decided it was time for a group tour which would explore how artists depict women and contrast this with women artists’ presentations. We assembled February 9, 2020 and enjoyed lunch together at the DIA café before embarking on our tour, arranged jointly between Cynthia Blackburn and myself, which included 6 DIA docents. I had previously explored the museum collections in search of likely art objects to include for the tour. That was a good thing as many of my initial choices were no longer on exhibition when I returned shortly before our event. There is no shortage of work showing women subject matter in art, but finding women artists was another challenge. With few exceptions, objects by women artists are largely from the late 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
As a women’s interfaith group, we wanted to explore works that represented diverse religions as well as women from different ages, places and cultures. I drew upon some of my favorites from my almost 40 years teaching Humanities in college. Several of the art objects viewed on the tour are portrayed by photographs taken by tour member Trish Harris.
This supple, standing figure with child might remind you of Mary and her son, Jesus, so often depicted in Christian art.
But, it’s Kuan Yin from the Buddhist tradition of China done in ivory, c. 1800’s. Kuan Yin is a Buddhist goddess of Mercy derived from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition which saw the qualities of Enlightenment in many forms of the past and future. She represents the female form of Avalokitesvara and is commonly shown on a lotus pedestal with flowing robes and a benign countenance. Her compassion (a key Buddhist virtue) is exemplified by her cradling the child and his prayer beads. I felt that each work portraying women would be best understood by comparing it with its contrasting opposite. I chose the voluptuous figure of Parvati in bronze from the Chola dynasty in India as a good idealized female representation of Hinduism. Both she and Kuan Yin are idealized women portrayed in stylized forms. Parvati is the wife/consort of Lord Shiva, one of the Trimurti or Hindu “trinity,” and, as such, represents female power and energy as well as an idealized woman.
Our next stop was the American art galleries and a couple of marble sculptures by Edmonia Lewis entitled Minihaha and Hiawatha. Edmonia is of mixed African-American and Native-American heritage. Her works are from the late 19th century and in the Neo-Classical style.
                     
These works recall the poem, Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and their beautiful but tragic love. Our next photo is of Penelope by Franklin Simmonds, who, like Edmonia, worked in the Neo-Classical style. Such artists often studied abroad and became ex-pats as did Simmonds, who settled in Rome and died there in 1913. He preferred Greek subject matter so his marble statue of Penelope recalls the Odyssey of Homer and the wife of Odysseus who waited for his return from the Trojan War for 20 years.
She is seated on her throne with a robe across her lap which she faithfully wove everyday and unraveled every night to stall her suitors. “When I’ve finished this robe, I’ll decide which of you to marry.” Of course, she didn’t want any of them and was stoically awaiting the return of Odysseus. Her demure, classically styled face with its rosebud mouth and classical nose are complemented by her Grecian-style dress which we may have seen in countless movies taking place in ancient Greece or Rome. The lion forms on her chair remind us that she is indeed the queen of her realm as well as the ruler of her heart. Like Minihaha, Penelope’s form is idealized to represent her faithfulness and composure under stress.
Our tour concluded with examples of women in art in the 20th-21st centuries. Trish’s photo of Henry Moore’s Recumbent Figure, 1938, reveals the artist’s use of the Elmwood medium to take advantage of the grain as it accentuates the curvilinear form.
 Moore is a British artist who worked largely in the 20th century after abstraction had become adopted as the visual language of much 20th century art. Such abstraction, which simplifies and distorts physical reality, is intended to focus our attention on an inner reality… inspired by the Surrealists who relied on intuition. Moore’s materials may suggest many forms and qualities. He clearly establishes a rhythm of solids and voids in this piece which carry the eye around and through the figure. We also respond to the warmth of the wood used and to the organic nature of the image. Such a contrast from the cool marble of the Neoclassical works!
Alison Saar’s, Blood, Sweat and Tears, 2005, was one of the 21st century’s women artists on display. Alison was born in 1956 in Los Angeles and moved to New York City in 1983. She takes art beyond aesthetics to a spiritual, inner reality by the pendants of brown teardrops hanging from every pore.
This particular work was inspired by the death of her dad. Saar’s work combines multiple materials to give a sense of past and present: the base is made from old ceiling tiles while rusted nails are used to fasten the teardrops. The overall mottled skin treatment is due to sheets of copper covering the wooden figure and lends an especially tragic quality to the work. We witness no face so that arms and hands become the physical representation of grief. Alison is the daughter of artist, Betye Saar, famous for her work The Liberation of Aunt Jemima.
In conclusion, we certainly found both stereotypes of women as well as representations of many aspects of her, but, more often as idealized representations. Current women artists such as Alison Saar and Florine Stettheimer are working in more personal and intuitive styles not dictated by the major art movements of an era; whereas both Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell fall within the mid- to late 20th century Abstract Expressionist camp. I’m left with the idea that stereotyping and its cousins are just lazy thinking, an unwillingness to explore the true diversity of women’s talents, capacities and qualities. Whereas, studying these diverse representations in art opens and challenges our minds to think and feel beyond the obvious and pay more attention to what is behind the eye as well as in front of the eye.

Give Yourself a Great Gift!
Holiday gift money just waiting to be spent?
Searching for a good read for yourself or your book club?
Look no further, purchase “Friendship and Faith”, 2nd edition, by the Women of WISDOM.
This unique collection of stories of women forming friendships with women different than themselves is a fantastic way to start you reading for the new year!
It is available in both print and e-book formats on Amazon.
  
Our book sales are a major source of program funding for our nonprofit. Your patronage is greatly appreciated.
Help us create a better world through faith and friendship. Buy a copy for yourself, a good friend and recommend it to your book club.
Happy New Year and great reading for 2020.

Delhi Riots: How A Sikh Hero Transported Dozens Of Muslim Neighbours To Safety
Mohinder Singh took exceptional steps to ensure the safety of Muslim residents in one of the worst-hit neighbourhoods in the Delhi Riots.
NEW DELHI –   On 24 February, as the worst communal violence since the 1984 Sikh riots swept Delhi, Mohinder Singh and Inderjit Singh used a Bullet motorcycle and scooty to transport somewhere between 60 to 80 of their Muslim neighbours to a safe location. The father and son duo say they had sensed the situation was spiralling out of control in the Hindu-dominated neighbourhood of Gokalpuri in northeast Delhi, and started moving their terrified neighbors in batches to the nearest Muslim locality of Kardampuri, one kilometer away.
Mohinder Singh, 53, said that his son was on the Bullet motorcycle and he was on the scooty, and they made around 20 trips each from Gokalpuri to Kardampuri in one hour. When it was women and children, they took three to four of them at a time. When it was men and boys, they took two or three at a time. For some of the boys, they tied Sikh turbans to conceal they were Muslim.
“I did not see Hindu or Muslim,” said Singh, who runs an electronics store and is a father to two children.
“I just saw people. I saw little children. I felt like they were my children and that nothing should happen to them. We did this because we all should act humanely and help those in need. What more can I say?” he said.
Gokalpuri saw some of the worst violence in the three days of rioting, which has left almost 40 people dead. Head constable Ratan Lal died of a bullet injury that he sustained here. Muslim shops, houses and a mosque were torched and looted here. The Muslims who fled are yet to return.  The “sardars” are now famous among the Muslims of Kardampuri, where HuffPost India heard about them. Their story offers a rare heartwarming tale in a grieving city torn apart by the riots. For Singh, who was 13 years old when the horrific anti-Sikh riots swept through the city, the violence last weekend was a grisly reminder of the past. His incredible bravery offers hope that not all is lost at a time when India seems more divided than ever before. “I have lived through the hell that was 1984,” Singh said. “Those memories have been revived.”
There were very few shops open in Gokalpuri market on 27 February, five days after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra made a hate speech against people protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which is now regarded as the trigger for the violence.  Singh had opened his electronic store for the first time since the riots on 27 February.
Smiling at this reporter’s repeated queries about what motivated him and his son to make so many trips to save his neighbors, Singh said, “You have to understand that this is the belief and culture of our community. You may have heard the expression: nanak naam chardi kala, tere bahne sarbat da bhala. Sarbat da bhala means that we want everyone to prosper. We did this to honour humanity and our 10 gurus whose central message is that we should act for everyone to prosper.”

I just saw people. I saw little children. I felt like they were my children and that nothing should happen to them.

What happened
It was around five in the evening on 24 February when tensions spiked in Gokalpuri, Singh said, giving a blow-by-blow account of what happened in his neighborhood that evening. It started with people chanting Jai Shri Ram, and raising slogans in praise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and calling for “traitors” to be shot, said Singh. Their numbers swelled quickly. The Muslims of Gokalpuri panicked and gathered at their local mosque – the Jamia Arabia Madinatul Uloom mosque – that would be set on fire and looted later that night. After the meeting, the Muslims decided they would leave immediately. Singh said he offered them protection and asked them to consider staying back, but they told him the people who wanted to harm them were likely to be more than those willing risk their own lives to save them.  The Muslims of Gokalpuri were terrified they would not be able to make it past Hindu mob that had commandeered the main road outside the locality. That is when Singh and his son stepped in, offering to ferry 60 to 80 of them to the closest Muslim locality.  Given how quickly the situation was worsening, father and son decided there was no time to get their car from the parking lot. They would have to make do with their motorcycle and scooty.
“We don’t think we did anyone a favour,” said Singh. “We didn’t do it for praise or for thanks. We did it because it was the right thing to do.”

We did this to honour humanity and our 10 gurus whose central message is that we should act for everyone to prosper.

Something human’: Mideast fight against virus elicits rare unity
The Christian Science Monitor
For years, cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians has been in retreat, as peace negotiations became a remote prospect, governments focused on mutual demonization, and President Donald Trump cut support for the Palestinian Authority. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has forced the sides to put recriminations on hold and instead work together to save lives. Palestinian health care professionals have received training in Israeli hospitals, Israeli labs have analyzed Palestinian COVID-19 diagnostic tests, and doctors on both sides are sharing data. Despite decades of arguing over where to draw a border, the spread of COVID-19 has highlighted how Israel and the Palestinian areas in the West Bank are in fact one unit in the battle to preserve public health. Handling the challenge requires the sides to collaborate and resist the tendency to focus first on the political.
“In the end, this isn’t something related to politics. This is something human, for the benefit of everyone,” says Mariana Alarja, chief manager of the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala, next to Bethlehem, where dozens of Palestinian coronavirus patients – including herself – are staying in quarantine.
As of Tuesday, 29 Palestinians in the West Bank have been diagnosed with the virus. An emergency was declared there last week. COVID-19 tests from Palestinians were sent to laboratories at Israel’s Sheba Hospital outside Tel Aviv for analysis because the facilities don’t exist in the West Bank. After years of Israeli military closures imposed on Bethlehem, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is enforcing its own closure to prevent the virus from spreading to other cities in the West Bank.
“A doctor should help everyone, regardless of race or nationality – whether the patient speaks English or Arabic,” says Ms. Alarja. “It doesn’t matter if you are an Israeli or a Palestinian, we all have to work on this very quickly.”
While any sign of normalization of ties with Israel carries a stigma among Palestinians, Zaher Nazzal, an epidemiologist at An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, says the cooperation makes sense. “This is normal. Whenever there’s a crisis that affects the people’s health, collaboration should be possible,” says Dr. Nazzal. “It doesn’t mean you put everything behind you, or that you agree with everything that’s happening.
Since the first Israeli was diagnosed with the virus nearly three weeks ago, the outbreak in Israel is showing signs of spiking: The count stood at 77 on Wednesday, after jumping 50% Monday to Tuesday.
Israel has responded by requiring all arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport to self-quarantine for 14-days, and on Wednesday banned gatherings of more than 100 participants in closed spaces. Tens of thousands are already in isolation. The country has closed its border with Egypt, and both Israel and Jordan have restricted traffic on their border. The Israeli and Palestinian populations, however, are far more intertwined. Yet, save for the coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has all but completely eroded over the past five or so years. The collaboration on the coronavirus includes the health ministries of both governments along with the Israeli military liaison. Israel in recent days delivered 250 virus test kits to the West Bank and held training sessions for Palestinian medical workers on how to protect themselves. Israel’s Civil Administration, the military-run authority in Palestinian areas of the West Bank, promised to supply medical equipment and training as needed.
“Viruses and epidemics don’t stop at the border, and the spread of a dangerous virus in Judea and Samaria could endanger the health of Israeli citizens,” Dr. Dalia Basa, health coordinator for the military administration, said in a statement, using the biblical terms for the West Bank. Helping the PA fight the virus “is both in the interest of Israel and of the highest humanitarian significance.”
In practice, a border between Israel and the Palestinian territories barely exists. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian laborers from the West Bank commute daily to jobs in Israel. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem also cross Israeli checkpoints into the West Bank. Because Israel and the Palestinian areas are effectively one territorial unit, the discrepancy between the two public health systems figures as a major challenge to containing the outbreak, say experts.
“Israel has the stronger economy and the stronger health system. It has not only a moral obligation but a self-interest to help all its neighbors. Given the seriousness of the crisis, there’s an urgent need for much greater cooperation,” says Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East.
“Should the PA, Jordan, or Egypt request emergency hospital facilities to be set up,” he says, “Israel should be ready to respond like it responds to earthquakes in other parts of the world.”
Public health threats have spurred cooperation among rivals on other maladies. A year ago, the “vaccine diplomacy” of international organizations prompted Afghanistan and Pakistan to introduce all-age polio vaccinations to travelers at their joint border to combat that virus in the violence-wracked region. And Cold War era vaccine diplomacy between the U.S. and the Soviet Union helped eradicate polio and smallpox in much of the world. Israelis and the Palestinians have cooperated on health before. Some 15 years ago, the Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian governments established an organization to promote joint public health initiatives – the Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance. The organization sponsored joint epidemiological training for doctors and nurses and promoted research collaboration and a regional network of public health professionals.
Those professional connections still exist, but Israeli-Palestinian government cooperation became nearly nonexistent as political ties eroded, says Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben Gurion University and one of the founding members of the consortium. “On both sides, people on the ground really want to collaborate in spite of the political situation,” says Dr. Davidovitch. “It’s part of a shared goal of public health.”
That goal was made more difficult to achieve after the Trump administration cut funding for joint Israeli-Palestinian research projects under a program that promotes Israeli collaboration with its Arab neighbors.
Ikram Salah, a Bethlehem resident who did doctoral studies under Dr. Davidovitch, had a joint epidemiological research project cut off by USAID under the Trump administration. She acknowledges that the public health infrastructure in the Palestinian territories is limited, but says it’s due to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank.
“I’m always saying that disease knows no borders,” she says. “As a Palestinian, it’s hard to say, but we are not independent. We are dependent on Israel in all sectors.”
Despite the collaboration in the West Bank, however, there is serious uncertainty about what would happen should the pandemic spread to the Gaza Strip, where some 2 million Palestinians live under military blockade in cramped conditions with woefully inadequate infrastructure. Israel has no direct relations with Hamas, the Islamic military group that rules Gaza.
Though there is a hard border between Israel and Gaza, there’s still traffic back and forth. Military officials reportedly consider an outbreak there a nightmare scenario that will have humanitarian and geopolitical fallout for Israel, as much of the world still holds it responsible for the situation there despite its 2005 military withdrawal.
“Gaza is not sterile. It will enter Gaza at some point. It has to,” says an Israeli health official who asked not to be named. “It’s one of the most densely populated places in the world. It will burn through Gaza very quickly, I’m afraid.”
In such a scenario, the World Health Organization would have to intervene to help coordinate efforts between Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority. For the time being, however, Israel and the Palestinians are focusing on handling the West Bank.
“This is being done because we don’t have another choice. We have to work together,” says Dr. Itamar Grotto, associate director-general of Israel’s Health Ministry. “If you are looking for a positive effect of this event, you could point to this.”

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