Impossible dream can become reality

THROUGHOUT his life, Dr Yehudah Paz has worked for peace, political justice, and the cause of international co-operation. At the recent Co-op Congress in Glasgow, he received the...

THROUGHOUT his life, Dr Yehudah Paz has worked for peace, political justice, and the cause of international co-operation.
At the recent Co-op Congress in Glasgow, he received the 2005 Blandford Prize for his work on behalf of an immensely brave and pioneering project to help bring an end to decades of division in the Middle East.
The &#163 2,000 prize money – plus &#163 15,000 donated on the night by societies and individuals – will go to the proposed ‘Birthing Together&#039 Maternity Hospital near the border between Israel and the Palestinian sector.
Dr Paz, who chairs the association which is helping to make the hospital a reality, said: "I was absolutely delighted by the award and the reception that my remarks got from the people who were there. It was all very touching."
Born in Brooklyn 75 years ago, and a graduate of Columbia and London universities, Dr Paz left to make a new life in Israel around 55 years ago. As a young man, he was a founding member of the Kibbutz Kissufim, near one of the Middle East&#039s most notorious danger spots. A renowned teacher and academic in the fields of sociology and philosophy.
He has received numerous citations and award and the list of his commitments is a truly daunting one but here&#039s a selection:
From 1980 to 1992 he was Director and Principal of the International Institute for Development, Labour and Co-operative Studies. Since June 1997 Dr Paz has also been chair of NISPED – the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development.
He is a member of the ICA board and a member of the Council of the Central Union of Co-operative Societies; an academic director of the Israel Co-op College; a member of the Central Committee of the United Kibbutz Movement, and the Israel Labour Party.
His latest venture has to be his biggest challenge yet. Until recently, the idea of building an Israeli-Palestinian hospital on the border between the western Negev of Israel and Palestine&#039s Gaza Strip would have been unthinkable. It&#039s only now the "road map" to peace has looked hopeful but Dr Paz believes the time is right for change and Palestinian and Israeli governments can work together in their people&#039s interests. The money from the UK will, he says, help bring the plans to fruition.
"Not all the cash has been allocated yet, but are we now in the final planning stages and negotiating with the Palestinian and Israeli governments.
"We are fighting hard to get our hospital into the trans-border medical region, we want it to be truly international. Only by living and working together in peace can each of us build a future for our children and grandchildren."
The plans are impressive – the hospital will cost about &#163 15 million to build and employ some 200 staff. It will aid routine deliveries as well as high-risk and emergency births.
It&#039s needed because the population on both sides of the border has grown enormously in recent years. In Israel, the population is 150,000 and in Palestinian 500,000.
Dr Paz says: "Many Palestinian women deliver at home or are taken to overcrowded hospitals in the Gaza Strip and most of the Israeli women deliver at what are often relatively distant hospitals which are stretched in capacity and are frequently very crowded.
"The hope is to build a hospital, which will provide high quality obstetrical services and solve the problem for regular births and for emergency cases.
"We feel that building a joint hospital is the proper response to these needs. Such a hospital will serve as a meeting place between populations facing similar problems as well as answering their medical needs."
The prospects for peace in the Middle East may look better than they have ever done. But Dr Paz agrees that raising funds – and negotiating with politicians – is still a difficult process. However, his optimism is unbounded.
Appeals are being made to international agencies and institutions including the World Health Organisation.
The Co-op Movement, too, is playing its part. The visit to Scotland for Congress gave Dr Paz and his wife a rare chance to relax. It also meant they could have a good look round New Lanark – where he attended an ICA Board meeting.
"It was wonderful to see the place where Robert Owen first pioneered many of his ideas about health and education and showed his commitment to the co-operation," said Dr Paz. "It was my first time at Congress and I found it all very interesting."

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