On 5 November 2013, Larry Rich, the Director of Development and International Public Relations affiliated to the Emek Medical Centre in Afula, Israel, gave a talk to around 40 invited guests – which included some pro-Palestinian hecklers – in the Committee Room 2 at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. He was introduced by Kenneth ‘Ken’ Macintosh the Scottish Labour Party MSP for the Eastwood constituency. Outside the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign made some noise.
In his introduction, Macintosh referred to ‘signs of hope’ in the current round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, on the one hand, and on the other the continuing horror of the Syrian civil war and the often unsatisfactory outcomes of the so called ‘Arab Spring’. Referring to his guest Larry Rich, he talked of the relationships that should exist in the region which, geographically, has Jerusalem (capital of Israel) lying only 200-odd kilometres from Damascus (capital of Syria)… around the distance between Edinburgh and Newcastle.
Larry Rich opened his talk by describing himself as neither a spokesman from Israeli political life, nor military life, although he emphasised that he was all too aware of the political and historical arguments that were raised in any discussion about ‘Israel’. Instead, he was going to talk about the lives of Jews and Arabs in Israel – at Emek Medical Centre, the largest hospital and employer in the Galilee region, which enjoyed 50:50 staffing by Jews and Arabs, serviced 50:50 Jewish and Arab populations.
It was at this point a couple of the hecklers opened their evening’s barrage. One stood up to say that he wanted the talk to end, and a second bawled out continuously that Palestine should be free (something that is quite outside Israel’s remit really, given the leaderships in both Gaza-Palestine and West Bank-Palestine). The first heckler in demanding that the talk should end was merely showing his fascist credentials.
Without any sign of intimidation Mr Rich went on to talk about the work of Emek Medical Centre in the field of genetic abnormality and paediatric oncology. He talked of how Dr. Samir Hatib, a Palestinian physician from East Jerusalem, had approached Emek with regard to the genetic problems within the Palestinian Moslem population – problems arising from inter-marriage and the high levels of genetic inter-linking. Mr Rich also described how in 2004, during the first ever Palestinian health delegation to Emek, the attending Palestinian medical staff expressed an intense anger. Anger at what ? At the extent to which Yasser Arafat had stolen from them – stolen money meant for the building of their infrastructure. Mr Rich also talked of how patients from Gaza regularly tell of brainwashing against Israel and how they are fed a regular diet of hate for Israel.
Again, at this point, a third heckler jumped up and claimed that the talk, and its content, was not representative of Israel, and a fourth again yelled about Palestine should be free. Free from this brainwashing and regular diets of hate perhaps? Well… perhaps that was not what was meant!
Larry Rich continued again, and told of how treated Palestinians dare not talk about their experiences at Emek and at other Israeli hospitals for fear of attack by their own and possible refusal of return visits for follow-up treatments.
He summed up by asking if Israel really was the problem in the Middle East ? Was it perhaps international media distortion ? Where were the acts of co-existence occurring in the Middle East ? In Jordan ? In Syria ? In Egypt ? In Iraq ?