NEWSLETTER APRIL/MAY 2018

A DIPLOMATIC VIEW OF THE MIDDLE EAST

DAVE SHARMA

Sitting high above the ancient city of Zefat (Safed) is the Ziv Medical Center. Staff and patients enjoy one of the most beautiful views of any hospital in Israel.

Spread out below them, to the south of the city, is the Sea of Galilee. In the biblical narrative, it was a place where miracles happen, presaging peace throughout the world.

But to the east of the hospital, people are forced to confront a very different reality. Here are the killing fields of Syria, where peace is an illusion and miracles only happen to those fortunate enough to find their way to Israel.

None of this was lost on Dave Sharma, the former Australian Ambassador to Israel who visited Ziv many times during his four-year tenure. But it was meeting the critically and chronically ill Syrians who were transported under cover of darkness from the border to Ziv that was transformative. It was, in Dave’s words, “a profound example of humanity and decency at its most compelling.”

“What I saw was Israel at its very best, and a side of Israel that the world too rarely sees or acknowledges.”

On his return to Australia in 2017, Dave accepted a position on the Board of Project Rozana Australia, one of four affiliates of Project Rozana International. It is an organisation that best articulates Dave’s moral code: attend to the health needs of children and adults without reference to their religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, financial means or politics.

DOCTORS AT ZIV HAD TO AMPUTATE THE LEGS OF THIS 10 YEAR OLD SYRIAN BOY TO SAVE HIS LIFE.

“Ziv, like every hospital in Israel, is a microcosm of how different peoples can get along and thrive if they focus on their common humanity, rather than what makes them different,” he says. “I can see why Project Rozana adopted Ziv as one of its core projects.”

Established in Australia in 2013, Project Rozana also operates in the United States, Canada and Israel alongside a growing presence in the Palestinian Territories. Its plan is to expand into Europe and other countries in the Middle East. Its mission is based on three principles: to transport Palestinians at no cost from the border of Gaza and the West Bank to hospitals in Israel; to treat Palestinian children in Israeli hospitals after funding from the Palestinian Authority has reached its limit, and to treat in Israel children from centres of conflict in the region; to train Palestinian health workers in Israel so they can return to build the health capacity of Palestinian society.

Having navigated the political minefield and risen to the social, cultural and religious challenges of the Middle East, Dave came to the realisation that health is critical to creating a positive relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. He believes that more than any other sector of civil society, health can cut through the antagonism and misunderstanding between people.

“Health and medical care can be an important bridge builder between communities,” Dave says. “Trust is an essential ingredient for any enduring peace settlement.’

“I was attracted to Project Rozana because it is an outcomes-oriented organisation. It seeks to put the difficult politics to one side, and instead focus on what communities can achieve when working together, and the common humanity which unites us all.” Dave also believes that Project Rozana can make an important contribution by promoting people-to-people interaction and empathy.

“This is a necessary precondition for peace,” he says. “Bridges can be built by focusing on what draws people together, even when many other forces seek to drive them apart.”

Dave, his wife Rachel Lord and their three children are back in Sydney with no immediate plans to return to diplomatic life. Until he resigned his last posting, Dave was a career diplomat and one of Australia’s best, judging by the accolades that followed his retirement. He wears his past credentials as a badge of honour; he brings that success to his role with Project Rozana.

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