Naama Abu Heichal | Special to the JT
Being a religious Muslim woman emergency medical technician (EMT) in the State of Israel is not something that would come quickly to mind for most people as an example of something that is easy. In truth, it is and it isn’t. While there certainly are difficult emergencies that I have responded to and difficult scenes that I have witnessed, the fact that I am a religious Muslim woman doing this work in Israel is something that I take great pride in.
I am a visible minority. I take great pride in helping others from my own sector, as well as those from other segments of the population. I find this work fulfilling, as it allows me the ability to help others, which as a Muslim is something that I hold sacred. Indeed, it’s why there are so many of us who choose to work in the field of health care in Israel. I believe that helping others is the greatest good that we can do on this earth, regardless of a person’s background or religion.
I sometimes get called to provide emergency medical treatment at scenes of violence. These incidents occur both in the Arab sector and among the larger Jewish population. Violence amid the Arab population in Israel has become all too widespread over the past few years, and I am glad that I can make a difference and help those adversely affected by it, even if only for a short time. Regardless of the scenario — be it sudden cardiac arrest, unconsciousness, respiratory issues, violence as stated or any other emergency — I am willing to help.
One of the most important things we as volunteers need to take into account is scene safety. We want to avoid putting ourselves in life-threatening situations when treating patients. If there is no choice but to go into a dangerous situation, we try to extricate the patient to a safe place — as far and as quickly from the danger as possible — prior to initiating treatment. In these instances, we wait for police or firefighters to bring the injured patients to a more secure location and only then initiate treatment.
As an EMT, I work together with police and firefighters, and am respected just like any other first responder. No one pays attention to what religion I am or what I wear on my head. In my two years of volunteering, I’ve gotten to know many of my fellow first responders, and I’ve noticed that many of the police officers are also Israeli Muslims. They serve for the same reason I do — to make society better for everyone.
Moreover, volunteering for United Hatzalah has changed my relationship with my own family because they now feel that they are in safe hands when they are around me. They are also proud of me for doing my best to help those who need it, even if I am working at all hours to save complete strangers.
Being an EMT and first responder didn’t simply bring me into an organization, it made me a part of a family — a family of like-minded people from all segments of Israeli society. We have formed bonds that supersede regular friendships. That has come through working together in some of the worst situations imaginable and becoming stronger for it.
What started out as working with an emergency medical-service provider that includes different cultures, traditions and customs exemplified for me that the value of helping others transcends the things that divide us.
Through my work, I have built relationships with people I never would have met before, who I completely disagree with from a political standpoint. I have learned that there are things that can help people rise above religion and politics, and will bring us together in a much stronger fashion. Putting good into the world is the greatest antidote to violence and hatred.
‘WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS; WE ALL WANT TO BE HELPED’
I have also connected with ultra-Orthodox women who rarely leave the confines of their own communities. I have connected with completely secular people who disdain not only my religion but all religion. Most of all, I have connected with people from my own community whose pain I have shared and whose families I have helped.
And during times of unrest — when terror attacks and violence make the news — it’s comforting to know that people from all backgrounds, races and religions will work together to heal the wounds caused by those who would commit these acts.
By being a part of this organization and volunteering as an EMT first responder, I am clearly and loudly saying that I believe in healing and unity. This is who I am, and this is what I believe.
Now, some of you reading this may assume that I have experienced discrimination or degradation because of my religion. Some people also assume that I experience discrimination in Muslim society because I help Jews; others may assume that it is the Jewish population that discriminates because I am Muslim. While it is clear to me that every sector of the population has issues with discrimination, I must say that to this day, I have not experienced such a thing (to my delight). I have been treated with respect as befits a first responder and medical personnel. I’ve learned that when a person’s life is on the line, people don’t discriminate. After all, we are all human beings, and we all want to live and be helped when that help is required. We don’t really care where the help comes from — at least, not in Israel.
My fellow first responders and I have formed a second family. We grow together through our work. (How could we not, as we have literally saved lives on a regular basis?
That changes a person. It changed me, and it changed them. It changed us all for the better. I have built bonds of friendship and have done it with pride because it is with people who share my core values.
In a country that has its fair share of problems and can be incredibly divisive, there is also so much that connects us, such as the desire to do good, the desire to put one’s own life on hold and to rush out to help others. These are just small parts of the unity of purpose that we all share.
Naama Abu Heichal, 24, is a second-year nursing student who works in a local health-care clinic and lives in Ein Naqquba, just west of Jerusalem. For the past two years, she has been volunteering as an EMT with United Hatzalah and as a member of the organization’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit.