Video saluting Israel’s Arab medical professionals during crisis goes viral

Campaign urges Israelis to consider: since they trust Arab doctors and caregivers to save their lives, why not work with them in national politics as well?

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A video lauding Arab doctors and nurses as heroes of the coronavirus crisis has gone viral in Israel, and its creators are hoping it will help bring about some change in the country’s politics.

More 1.5 million Israelis — representing a sixth of the population — have watched the 55-second video that shows Arabs from around the country at work, in scrubs. “Now they’re called heroes and we’re all applauding them,” says the text.

But the creators of the video set out to challenge the nation as well as express its gratitude. “We wanted to say that if you trust an Arab person with your life in the hospital, you should be prepared to trust them to be part of your government,” Shir Nosatzki, the activist behind the clip, told The Times of Israel.

She said that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to get Jewish Israelis to open up to the idea of Arabs as political partners. “There was never a situation when so many Jewish lives were in the hands of Arabs,” she commented, noting that Arabs are disproportionately represented in medical professions.

Anwar Zoabi, doctor at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, who appears in a viral video saluting Arab medical personnel. (courtesy, ‘Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?’)

The video ends by telling viewers: “Tens of thousands of Arab citizens of Israel are full partners in the war against the coronavirus. They are also an inseparable part of the State of Israel.”

The closing slogan is: “Partners in fate; partners in government.”

It is a protest against the political climate in which Israel’s mainstream Jewish politicians will not enter coalitions, or informal political alliances, with the Arab-dominated Joint List. “We want an Arab party to be able to be legitimate players in a government, and that the atmosphere on this issue changes so that it is, at least, an option,” said Nosatzki, director of a two-year-old pro-coexistence group called, “Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?”

Shir Nosatzki, director of the pro-coexistence group called ‘Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?’ (courtesy)

In the latest election, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White competed to distance themselves from the Joint List. Likud erected billboards claiming that Gantz would form a government with the Joint List, and Gantz denied it.

Many analysts have suggested that if the political climate had been less antagonistic to Joint List, Gantz may have made an alliance with it or formed a government that relied on its support from the outside. Though he appeared to toy with the latter idea at one point, it eventually became clear he did not have enough parliamentary support to pull it off. Gantz ended up agreeing on a unity government with Netanyahu.

“The Israeli health care system is an inspiring place,” said Arsalan Abu Much, a doctor at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan who has been helping Nosatzki to promote the video. “We work together side by side Jewish and Arab doctors, friends, colleagues. Treating all patients. It’s time that the political system takes up this model.”

As well as going viral among Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, the video is also striking a chord with some Palestinians who work in Israeli hospitals. At Rambam Health Care Campus on Monday morning, physician Khalen Abu Dalu said even though he does not have a stake in Israeli elections as he is not an Israeli citizen, he is excited by the video, feeling it captures the mood of the crisis.

“It’s like we’ve all just received an electric shock that makes us realize we can actually be together,” Abu Dalu, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, told The Times of Israel. “If only we could deal with each other in general as we have during this period.”

Physician Khalen Abu Dalu at Rambam Health Care Campus on April 27, 2020. (Nathan Jeffay/Times of Israel)

He said: “People feel now that we’re in the same boat. With everyone united against this tiny enemy, the virus, there’s a sense of unity.”

Nosatzki, who was a leading voice in Israel’s 2011 social protests, said: “There is coexistence in the hospitals, but there’s still a feeling that we can work together on daily life but not cooperate on a political level. It’s not racism, it’s a complex situation. But what we see today shows us that if it can happen in the stressful situation of a hospital during a crisis, it can happen in politics.”

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