A conversation with Yuval Roth March 2017/ Dr. Judy Roth and Naama Hochstein

In mid March Dr. Judy Roth and I met with Yuval Roth for a conversation which opened a space of thoughts and inspiration. This time of Shoa remembrance and Memorial day in Israel is very fitting to bring parts from our conversation. It takes an expert in juggling, like Yuval Roth, to hold together the difficulty to sleep at night because of harm done to Palestinians, the joy of people volunteering to help in a simple human way, faith in what works in the coordination system between Israel and the Palestinian authority, together with a close knowledge of the walls and policies which mean suffering and too often tragedy.

Yuval pics

יובל רוט בנסיעה. מתוך הסרט “להציל את נור” של נילי טל.

Yuval told us of the way he came to create “The Road To Recovery”, responding to a need which came up from Palestinian acquaintances and recognizing the potential of a place of real help and meeting:

“A friend of mine from the Bereaved Families Circle asked me if I could give a ride to his brother who lives in the Jenin area to Rambam hospital in Haifa for tests regarding a worry about a brain tumor. I concented. For me it was exactly like a neighbor from Pardes Hanna asking, just across the fence. And that’s how it came about. I didn’t mean to establish a network of rides. That friend referred to me others dealing with illness from his village, and my phone number started passing from person to person. I saw I needed help and asked around, and a group of volunteers started forming. Today there are close to 1000 volunteers and 100 rides are given a day – from Azza to the north. It’s part of the arrangement between the PA and Israel who goes to which hospital.

In Gaza we work in coordination with a Gazan organization called “Basmat el-Amal” a smile of hope. They refer ill people to us from Gaza – they are the worst off. They need to pass two checkpoints – one belonging to the Hamas and one to the security service and Israel. They give them a very very hard time. In the movie “Saving Nur” [a movie by the director Nili Tal, showing to Gazan families coming for treatment for serious conditions of their children and also using the help of “On the Way to Recovery”] there are two parallel stories – Nur, who comes with her parents, and Abd el Rahman, whose parents are denied entry. This creates terrible situation [in the film Abd el Rahman – a toddler – goes through open heart surgery accompanied by his Grandfather. Neither his mother nor father are present]. It often happens that we take grandmothers who accompany grandchildren to treatment and the grandmother ends up staying the hospital while the grandchild goes back to Gaza, because of a medical condition.”

Yuval told us about the striking difference between people coming from the West Bank and Gaza:

“You see it coming back too. When we return patients to Gaza they return with lots and lots of equipment. The volunteers say they have no room. Food. Gifts. All kind of stuff. I have a wagon and it gets filled up. Sometimes it’s like moving. My association is from my father’s stories about the Holocaust. When one doesn’t know when the next time he’ll have a chance to get supplies. A person hoards and hoards. Like survivors.”

“Gazans are in survival. There is no other word. Sometimes you see Gazan children in Rambam hospital begging. The Israeli Arabs really try to help Gazans. A child with cancer from Gaza – you see how the Israeli Arabs are Sometimes you see people from Gaza going from person to person to ask for help, leaving with large sums. It reminds me of Holocaust stories I heard from my father. When you’re trying to survive you do all kinds of things.”

Do you experience burnout?

That’s the power of what I do. Where ever I look, where ever I put my hand, I always meet good. My surrounding is good so my life is good. I’m lucky. Yesterday someone asked me in an interview what’s common to the volunteers? I said that they all put humanity before all else. There are even some settlers. A few. It’s not obvious. For me either. When the Hebron settler’s committee called and said they’d like to help it was difficult for me. Usually settlers are a red line. So I advised with some people. They said “what’s the question?” Just like I won’t check my neighbor’s politics and who he voted for. I’m apposed to him politically. But a good person can be a good person and a settler. But there’s a contradiction. How do you resolve sitting on land you took and your having rights your neighbor doesn’t have and you’re a human being? A person? It’s a different outlook. “

What do you do in your work?

I explain to managers how with juggling you can create time for yourself. Our coordinators don’t understand in the beginning what I mean when I say “You have lots of time.” “10 minutes??” “That’s lots of time.” They receive lots of assignments, like balls, and I say “Don’t lift your hand. Lots of times when it reaches you it will no longer be relevant.” You want to solve a problem, but if you’ll wait it will resolve itself.”

It sounds like lots of work. What drives you?

“In the morning when I wake up what burns in my bones is the occupation. It drives me crazy. And it drives me crazy that it doesn’t drive my neighbor crazy. He doesn’t want to know about what goes on beyond the fence. My life is good and my close circle and the volunteers are what keeps me sane. But the occupation… there are no words. It drives me crazy. It’s so difficult to understand how the Jewish people, I’m second generation, my father is a Holocaust survivor, how we… we! I have only shame.”

We asked if Yuval thinks being second generation in a family of a Holocaust survivor impacts him?

“I think so. I think the lesson from the Holocaust is “don’t stand by. When you see injustice you must not be silent.” My duty to myself as a human being is to do all that I can within my power to lessen the damage or give the other side some kind of hope that there’s another possibility. It’s one of the things we do, showing that Israelis have a different face. They have a human side. It’s something that gives hope. I think hope is perhaps the strongest power in the world when you’re in a desperate situation. It’s something I learnt from my father, who survived the Holocaust. A grain of sugar gave them hope. In the chaos this is what we can and in my opinion must do. Giving people a ride is something practical and it gives our volunteers strength. It’s not complicated. You get in the car and do something. Something practical. I know it saves lives. Really saves lives. And by the way I meet the neighbors in a way which has no second. In today’s reality there is not possibility for people to people meetings. The hours of people to people our volunteers get is incomparable to anything.

Yuval 2

On the Israeli side our new volunteers say in the beginning sometimes “checkpoint” “Palestinian” “isn’t it dangerous?” and “who says the person getting in my car is not a terrorist?” For me – it doesn’t enter my mind. It has to do with consciousness here in Israeli society, because there’s a leadership who takes care that fear will constantly enter consciousness. To pump fear. There’s nothing like these meetings to dispel fear. In the other side too. A few years ago we went to comfort mourners in Hebron. And the children said “the first time we were scared.” “You were afraid of me?” “Yes. What we know, our reality, is soldiers and settlers, checkpoints. Why should a Jew suddenly come and help me? Either he needs me for something or he’s from the security service.” All these thoughts dissipate after 10 minutes together. There’s no alternative to meeting. On both sides.”

Do you have hope?, we asked?

“I have a problem. I’m an optimist. It’s an incurable childhood disease. I’m convinced, really convinced, that one day things will be normal. I claim it’s going to happen much sooner than it seems. It’s all clear. When there’s a leader with courage, it can change in a day. Everyone will say what idiots we were. I saw with my very own eyes as a reserve soldier when the Oslo accord was signed we had been getting stones and they just talked and people gave us flowers. Nothing had happened yet. Just talk of something different. The question is really the price. How much blood will have to be spilled here, how many more crimes will we do. Even people who are against today will see with their own eyes how good it is. It can be paradise here.”

“I know so many incidents of Palestinians who suffered terrible things. Crimes. Israeli society doesn’t hear or doesn’t believe or there’s a system of justifications or people say “we had no choice.” It drives me crazy. But I’ve invented a saying “in action we’ll be comforted.”

In mid March Dr. Judy Roth and I met with Yuval Roth, a meeting which left me full of thoughts and inspiration. This time of Shoa remembrance and Memorial day in Israel is very fitting to bring parts from our conversation. It takes an expert in juggling, like Yuval Roth, to hold together the difficulty to sleep at night because of harm done to Palestinians, the joy of people volunteering to help in a simple human way, faith in what works in the coordination system between Israel and the Palestinian authority, together with a close knowledge of the walls and policies which mean suffering and too often tragedy.

יובל רוט בנסיעה. מתוך הסרט “להציל את נור” של נילי טל.

Yuval told us of the way he came to create “The Road To Recovery”, responding to a need which came up from Palestinian acquaintances and recognizing the potential of a place of real help and meeting:

“A friend of mine from the Bereaved Families Circle asked me if I could give a ride to his brother who lives in the Jenin area to Rambam hospital in Haifa for tests regarding a worry about a brain tumor. I concented. For me it was exactly like a neighbor from Pardes Hanna asking, just across the fence. And that’s how it came about. I didn’t mean to establish a network of rides. That friend referred to me others dealing with illness from his village, and my phone number started passing from person to person. I saw I needed help and asked around, and a group of volunteers started forming. Today there are close to 1000 volunteers and 100 rides are given a day – from Azza to the north. It’s part of the arrangement between the PA and Israel who goes to which hospital.

In Gaza we work in coordination with a Gazan organization called “Basmat el-Amal” a smile of hope. They refer ill people to us from Gaza – they are the worst off. They need to pass two checkpoints – one belonging to the Hamas and one to the security service and Israel. They give them a very very hard time. In the movie “Saving Nur” [a movie by the director Nili Tal, showing to Gazan families coming for treatment for serious conditions of their children and also using the help of “On the Way to Recovery”] there are two parallel stories – Nur, who comes with her parents, and Abd el Rahman, whose parents are denied entry. This creates terrible situation [in the film Abd el Rahman – a toddler – goes through open heart surgery accompanied by his Grandfather. Neither his mother nor father are present]. It often happens that we take grandmothers who accompany grandchildren to treatment and the grandmother ends up staying the hospital while the grandchild goes back to Gaza, because of a medical condition.”

Yuval told us about the striking difference between people coming from the West Bank and Gaza:

“You see it coming back too. When we return patients to Gaza they return with lots and lots of equipment. The volunteers say they have no room. Food. Gifts. All kind of stuff. I have a wagon and it gets filled up. Sometimes it’s like moving. My association is from my father’s stories about the Holocaust. When one doesn’t know when the next time he’ll have a chance to get supplies. A person hoards and hoards. Like survivors.”

“Gazans are in survival. There is no other word. Sometimes you see Gazan children in Rambam hospital begging. The Israeli Arabs really try to help Gazans. A child with cancer from Gaza – you see how the Israeli Arabs are Sometimes you see people from Gaza going from person to person to ask for help, leaving with large sums. It reminds me of Holocaust stories I heard from my father. When you’re trying to survive you do all kinds of things.”

“In the morning when I wake up what burns in my bones is the occupation. It drives me crazy. And it drives me crazy that it doesn’t drive my neighbor crazy. He doesn’t want to know about what goes on beyond the fence. My life is good and my close circle and the volunteers are what keeps me sane. But the occupation… there are no words. It drives me crazy. It’s so difficult to understand how the Jewish people, I’m second generation, my father is a Holocaust survivor, how we… we! I have only shame.”

We asked if Yuval thinks being second generation in a family of a Holocaust survivor impacts him?

“I think so. I think the lesson from the Holocaust is “don’t stand by. When you see injustice you must not be silent.” My duty to myself as a human being is to do all that I can within my power to lessen the damage or give the other side some kind of hope that there’s another possibility. It’s one of the things we do, showing that Israelis have a different face. They have a human side. It’s something that gives hope. I think hope is perhaps the strongest power in the world when you’re in a desperate situation. It’s something I learnt from my father, who survived the Holocaust. A grain of sugar gave them hope. In the chaos this is what we can and in my opinion must do. Giving people a ride is something practical and it gives our volunteers strength. It’s not complicated. You get in the car and do something. Something practical. I know it saves lives. Really saves lives. And by the way I meet the neighbors in a way which has no second. In today’s reality there is not possibility for people to people meetings. The hours of people to people our volunteers get is incomparable to anything.

On the Israeli side our new volunteers say in the beginning sometimes “checkpoint” “Palestinian” “isn’t it dangerous?” and “who says the person getting in my car is not a terrorist?” For me – it doesn’t enter my mind. It has to do with consciousness here in Israeli society, because there’s a leadership who takes care that fear will constantly enter consciousness. To pump fear. There’s nothing like these meetings to dispel fear. In the other side too. A few years ago we went to comfort mourners in Hebron. And the children said “the first time we were scared.” “You were afraid of me?” “Yes. What we know, our reality, is soldiers and settlers, checkpoints. Why should a Jew suddenly come and help me? Either he needs me for something or he’s from the security service.” All these thoughts dissipate after 10 minutes together. There’s no alternative to meeting. On both sides.”

Do you have hope?, we asked?

“I have a problem. I’m an optimist. It’s an incurable childhood disease. I’m convinced, really convinced, that one day things will be normal. I claim it’s going to happen much sooner than it seems. It’s all clear. When there’s a leader with courage, it can change in a day. Everyone will say what idiots we were. I saw with my very own eyes as a reserve soldier when the Oslo accord was signed we had been getting stones and they just talked and people gave us flowers. Nothing had happened yet. Just talk of something different. The question is really the price. How much blood will have to be spilled here, how many more crimes will we do. Even people who are against today will see with their own eyes how good it is. It can be paradise here.”

“I know so many incidents of Palestinians who suffered terrible things. Crimes. Israeli society doesn’t hear or doesn’t believe or there’s a system of justifications or people say “we had no choice.” It drives me crazy. But I’ve invented a saying “in action we’ll be comforted.”

childrenGazamedical helpWest BandYuval Roth. The Road to Recovery