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A lifetime of nursing heals Israeli-Palestinian wounds

Paula Towers
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A lifetime of nursing heals Israeli-Palestinian wounds

Published: 19 September 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

After making aliyah at 16, Julie Benbenishty has spent her life helping others; getting eight Israeli and Palestinian hospitals to collaborate may be her biggest achievement.

“You’ll never make it – you’ll be back in six months” proclaimed Julie’s mother - following her announcement that she was leaving home and her family in America at 16. It was the first of many challenges she overcame, and some 50 years later her nursing career encompasses myriad achievements.

The World Federation of Critical Care Nurses named Benbenishty their newest ambassador earlier this year. Associate Professor Benbenishty is also vice president of the European Federation of Critical Care Nurses and has taught critical care nursing and trauma medicine in Tanzania and on the Polish border with Ukraine.

In Australia on a sabbatical, Benbenishty is researching conflict resolution and presenting on that topic as well as discussing harmonious co-existence at universities in Sydney, Wollongong, Adelaide and Brisbane.

Having graduated as a nurse, Benbenishty was drafted into the Israeli Defence Forces as an army nurse. Following her discharge and since 1978, she has worked at Hadassah Medical Center’s ICU in Jerusalem. Her experience includes treating civilians, army wounded, victims of terror attacks, and terrorists. 

Hadassah promoted Benbenishty to the Head of Trauma and through caring for thousands of trauma patients, she identified that those injured and living in the Palestinian Authority did not receive adequate post-discharge care. The injustice and inequality created a situation which was not acceptable to Benbenishty and her Palestinian co-worker Naela Hayek– the national head nurse of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security, who has spent 29 years working in the Hadassah ICU with Benbenishty.

Longtime partners Naela Hayek and Julie Benbenishty
Longtime partners Naela Hayek and Julie Benbenishty

“We treat all people wounded from the same incident in the same way; it doesn’t matter if they’re Palestinian, Jewish, whatever – they’re treated in the hospital in the same way, but as soon as they’re released from the hospital, the Palestinians go home and sit at home, while the Israelis have rehabilitation, physical therapy, their health service covers all that; the Palestinian Authority does not have those services,” Benbenishty told The Jewish Independent.

Both felt strongly motivated to improve care and in 2009 they created the not-for-profit joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation Nurses in the Middle East (NME), which promotes regional health as well as connecting nurses, regardless of political, ethnic or religious identity.

Starting as a pilot program for 15 nurses at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem to receive advanced training at Hadassah, the programs have since grown to include the participation of four Israeli and four Palestinian hospitals, with around 480 nurses. A key role is closing skills gaps within nursing.

An obstacle from the beginning was that Palestinians and Israelis are not allowed to work together directly, which necessitates an outside group to sponsor the organisation. The NME external sponsor is The Watson Caring Institute in Denver, Colorado. Based on Jean Watson’s theory of caring, it focuses on “the centrality of human caring … and its healing potential”.

Research is another key area. With often limited resources, the Palestinian nurses have highly developed scientific research. “They’re developing, producing, publishing at a high level – very impressive,” Benbenishty observes. However, politics and red tape can interfere. “They can’t publish together with us, but I can help them publish.”

The most satisfying part of this journey for Benbenishty has been to find a partner (Naela Hayek) with the same goals: “We have common goals and interests, values, morals and work ethics; as health promoters, wanting to be proactive – to promote common activities.

“We want both Israelis and Palestinians to be role models for the people in our country about living in harmony.” It goes beyond ensuring health equity for patients in the West Bank and Gaza, Benbenishty emphasises, it’s a way of really “creating a calmer coexistence. We just want to live in harmony, not in a constant conflict situation.”

These aims culminated in Benbenishty and Hayek being invited in March to speak at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW) session, “Nurses of the Middle East, South, and Central America Promoting Caring, Collaboration, and Cooperation through Shared Educational Experiences, where panellists outlined how they were taking global nursing into the future.

Benbenishty says Australia has also played an important supporting role. “[Australian based] Project Rozana, together with USAID [the United States Agency for International Development providing lifesaving assistance amidst complex crises] donated a combined $A2.5m to this nationwide project to educate Palestinian nurses in advance practice nursing.” It’s a grant covering the next three years.


How training Israeli and Palestinian nurses can help bring peace (The Jewish Independent)
Building Bridges between East and West Jerusalem through medicine
(The Jewish Independent)
Project Rozana + Hadassah – driving change in the Middle East
(The Jewish Independent)
Project Rozana secures 20 ventilators for Palestinian Authority
(The Jewish Independent)

Photo Julie Benbenishty working with Hadassah Medical Center and the IDF (Hadassah)

About the author

Paula Towers

Paula Towers is a writer and editor, and has also worked as a political speechwriter and researcher. Currently, Paula is a presenter and producer on the Arts Thursday show at Sydney's Eastside Radio as well as a freelance writer for print publications and a travel web site.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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