EFRAT — Doctor Yitzchak Glick was greeted like a king as he drove through the windy streets of Wadi Nis in his minivan. The previous day, the 800-resident hamlet had unexpectedly defeated Hebron in a soccer game 2-1, winning the Palestinian national cup. Glick decided to drive over from his home in the neighboring settlement of Efrat and congratulate his friends.
After sipping sweet tea with an elderly man (whom he promised medication for a diabetic foot) and watching a video of the dramatic goals with the team’s manager, Glick made one final stop to review the medical records of a villager recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This, more or less, has been the routine of the emergency room physician since his immigration from Cleveland in 1998.
“He’s a blessing,” said the elderly man before warmly embracing the American oleh.
Glick divides his time between an emergency room in Ohio and the emergency center in Efrat that he established in 2001. But even before the local center existed, he would make volunteer house calls in Wadi Nis and the nearby villages of Um Salmouna and Jurat a-Sham’a, usually accompanied by a village notable. Within a year or so, Glick was known throughout the area and would respond to emergency calls made directly to his mobile phone.
One Wadi Nis resident told The Times of Israel of a domestic accident last month, in which his young daughter spilled hot soup on her leg and was seriously burned. The man took her to a hospital in Bethlehem for emergency care, but upon her release invited Glick for a second opinion. Glick summoned a skin specialist from Jerusalem to continue treatment.
“Everyone in Wadi Nis knows me,” he said, navigating his way through the village’s bumpy alleyways. “There’s almost not a family here I haven’t treated; many children whose lives I’ve saved. From day one I saw it as an important value to help the Palestinians in the towns around us.”
Through the Efrat Emergency Medical Center, an evening clinic, Glick provides Palestinians from the area with two types of service: emergency care, and consultations from volunteer specialists he invites. These specialists are either residents of Efrat — a community of 8,000 boasting around 250 doctors — or Jerusalem hospital physicians who come in several times a month for a few hours of pro bono work.
“If I know that I need a urologist, an orthopedist or a hand surgeon, I’ll touch base with them and say: ‘Can you come down to our clinic and take a look at so and so?'”
Glick estimated that an average of five Palestinians are treated in his Efrat clinic every week, approximately 10 percent of the clinic’s total patient population. The Palestinian patients must coordinate their entry ahead of time with the settlement’s security gate, which was erected at the onset of the Second Intifada in 2000.
The new medical center building, constructed in 2010, also houses the dispatch center for Magen David Adom, Israel’s ambulance service. Emergency teams from Efrat will often meet Palestinian patients at the settlement gate and decide on the preferable course of treatment.
“Our teams will go out to car accidents, construction accidents or medical emergencies such as shortness of breath or chest pain,” Glick said. “They [the Palestinians] know that they can come to us and things will get rolling.”
In recent years, cooperation between Magen David Adom and the Palestinian Red Crescent has increased, as the Palestinian ambulance response time and level of care have dramatically improved, Glick said. He has recently started working with an Israeli organization called Blue-White Human Rights, which helps facilitate the entry of Palestinian patients into Israeli hospitals.
Establishing a regional clinic to treat Palestinians was the brainchild of Efrat’s Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. In the mid-1980s, the Mukhtar (village head) of the nearby village of Beit Fajjar told Riskin he was interested in such a center, and Riskin promptly raised the funds from Danny Abraham, an American-Jewish philanthropist he knew.
“I realized that it was very important to have a medical center,” Riskin, who moved to newly founded Efrat in 1983 along with many of his congregants at New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, told The Times of Israel.
“But one day I got a note from [the mukhtar] saying that we have to stop talking to each other because it’s dangerous. The day after I got the note, he was found naked hanging from a tree, with his genitals cut off. That’s when I realized where I’m living,” Riskin said. “I understood I was playing with fire.”
Riskin did not give up, however. Soon after the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, Efrat helped put a young man from Wadi Nis through medical school, hoping the doctor would head a new medical center in his own community. Riskin returned to his friend Danny Abraham, who was “all shaken up from the earlier case in Beit Fajjar,” but donated $250,000 for “a simple first step.”
Once again, disappointment followed swiftly.
“A day later, I heard that all the people I was dealing with — mostly the sons of the Mukhtar — were put into prison by [former Bethlehem governor] Salah Ta’amari. I must have called up thirty times to get to see him.”
“Finally, I got to see [Ta’amari] in Bethlehem. He said: ‘Oh, you’re the ugly Israeli.’ I said: ‘Well, maybe I am, but I’m also a humanitarian. I’m a rabbi, I care about these people.’ [He said:] ‘You care about these people? First get out of Efrat, then get out of Jerusalem, and then get out of Tel Aviv.’ I asked him: ‘But what about peace? Oslo?’ He said: ‘Don’t be a fool. It’s war.”
Like Riskin, Glick remains insistently undeterred. Back in the Efrat clinic, the doctor explained that his work also has an educational aspect. Glick is involved (together with the Peres Center for Peace) in training Palestinian doctors. In parallel, he tries to convince his Palestinian patients to obtain health insurance and turn first to Palestinian hospitals and physicians whenever clinically possible.
“Treatment in the Palestinian Authority is less costly and is the right thing to do, both from the Palestinian point of view, and that of the Israeli health system,” said Glick, who regularly coordinates patient care with doctors in the Palestinian Authority.
“[Palestinian patients] firmly believe that the care in Israel is substantially superior to the care in Hebron and Bethlehem, which is not necessarily always correct,” he said. “In the last 20 years, the quality of care in the PA has improved substantially. The doctors are far better trained and their equipment is much improved.”