A Road to Recovery, Paved With Good Intentions


An Israeli man who lost his brother to a terrorist attack has channeled his grief into providing an essential medical taxi service for Palestinians.

Once or twice a week, Amatzia Dayan, a resident of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, drives in the early morning hours through the security border crossing near Magen Shaul, Israel, to pick up Palestinian children and their families from Jenin and ferry them to Rambam Hospital in Haifa. The children may be suffering from cancer, leukemia or another life-threatening illness, but two particular brothers, aged 14 and 15 and waiting in the pre-dawn with their father, have thalassemia, a genetic mutation affecting the production of hemoglobin that is common among Palestinians.
“Two out of six of my children have thalassemia, as well as one of my cousins and an uncle. I would guess that about 300 children in the Jenin area suffer from it,” explains the boys’ father, Norman. “Since there are no dialysis machines in Jenin, we have to travel to Rambam several times a month, and the only way to do this is with the help of Israeli drivers.”
Palestinians with serious health conditions must obtain special permits to receive treatment in Israel; however, they are not allowed to drive their own vehicles past the checkpoints. Round-trip taxi fare would be prohibitively expensive for most. Instead, more than 500 Israelis volunteer through Road to Recovery, picking up Palestinians at the border checkpoints and driving them to hospitals in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Being a passenger in an automobile with an Israeli license plate and an Israeli driver helps minimize the transit time through the checkpoint: What could take several hours might be reduced to 10 or 15 minutes.
A preponderance of children assisted through Road to Recovery suffer from the blood disease thalassemia, which is particularly clustered in Mediterranean communities. Similar to sickle-cell anemia, the thalassemia trait is prevalent in climates where malaria was once endemic and confers a degree of protection against malaria, thus a selective survival advantage. If both parents — more likely in isolated or island populations — carry the trait, there is a 25 percent risk that a child will be affected.
From either the disease itself or the frequent blood transfusions, excessive deposits of iron accumulate in the body, which damage the heart, liver and endocrine system. An overtaxed spleen can become enlarged, necessitating its removal. Anemia can cause a child’s growth to slow and can delay the beginning of puberty. Thalassemia can cause bone marrow to expand, which can result in abnormal and brittle bone structure. Without regular blood transfusions at least every three months and adequate iron chelation therapy to remove excess iron, most patients with thalassemia would eventually die. Neither of those two treatments are available in Gaza and the West Bank — which is where Yuval Rot comes in.
The Road to Recovery was started by Rot, a member of Kibbutz Magan Micha’el. In 1994, his brother Udi was kidnapped and killed in Gaza by Hamas. To deal with his grief over the loss, Rot decided to do something positive. He joined the group called Parents Circle-Families Forum, which brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had loved ones killed in wars and terrorism. During his time there, he befriended many Palestinians, some of whom shared with him the common need of transportation access to Israeli health care facilities.
“Then one day, a man in the forum from Jenin called and told me his brother might have a brain tumor. He had an appointment at Rambam but no way to go,” Rot says. “He asked if I could drive him, and I agreed.”
When other Palestinians asked for assistance, an eventually overwhelmed Rot recruited friends to help drive children and adults. Within several years, Road to Recovery came together as an “act of reconciliation instead of revenge.” Since 2006, Rot and his team of some 500 volunteers, many of them pensioners like Amatzia Dayan, have been giving Palestinians a lifeline.
“I used to drive all the way into the West Bank to pick up or drop off the children,” explains Dayan, who happens to be the nephew of the late Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan, “but was urged by friends that Jenin was too dangerous. Now I only meet them at the border crossing.” To date, Road to Recovery has assisted more than 450 Palestinian families make more than 2,500 hospital trips.
Another volunteer, Israeli-born Rachel, who asked that her last name be withheld, and who now lives in Los Angeles, said she wanted to participate in a humanitarian peace cause. Through a friend, she heard about Road to Recovery.
“After speaking with Yuval and his attempt to promote trust from the ground up on a personal level, I knew it would suit me well,” Rachel says. “I now help fundraising in the United States, and when I’m visiting Israel, I participate in driving children.”
Currently Rachel is working on establishing Road to Recovery on the crowdfunding site Global Giving, which will allow donations to receive tax-deduction status.


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