SCOTLAND – The story of Emek Medical Center in Afula, Israel, is little known within the international community – but Larry Rich, the Center’s Director of Development and Public Relations, is on a mission to change that. He has traveled across the world to share the story of the hospital, located in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel, which serves half a million Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze from the region.
Most recently, Rich visited Scotland, a country not known for its friendly Israel views. Rich traveled there to talk about the Israel he knows – seen through the prism of a medical institution, where the efforts of Jewish and Arab physicians to heal patients of all backgrounds are part of everyday life.
Rich told Tazpit News Agency that the reactions to his talks – even from the most hostile of audiences – are largely positive.
“I’m just a guy that works in a hospital – not a politician,” said Rich. “And I share what I see – Arabs and Jews working together and caring for each other in a setting where barriers and stereotypes don’t exist. It’s a reality of Israel that never gets exposure in international media.”
He cites the years of the first and second Intifada, when Emek Medical Center treated hundreds of Palestinian men, women, and children from Jenin and Judea and Samaria without payment. “Despite the threats that Israel faces, our medical institutions across Israel give equal medical treatment to all.”
Additionally, Emek Medical Center, which has 500 beds and staffs 300 physicians and 700 nurses along with support personnel, also provides medical training to Arab doctors and surgeons from Jordan.
“What makes the Emek hospital so unique is that it is made up of a multi-ethnic staff that services a multi-ethnic population. There is no institution like this in the entire Middle East,” Rich told Tazpit.
“After my talks, I often hear from members of Muslim audiences, who tell me that they have never heard of this kind of story coming out of Israel,” said the American-born Rich, who has also spoken to J Street and Muslim activist groups in the United States. “Most anti-Israel activists – when they listen – are taken by complete surprise.”
During the Scotland tour, Rich spoke in several cities including Glasgow and St. Andrews, as well as at the Scottish Parliament and the University of Dundee, where audiences filled with anti-Israel hecklers attempted unsuccessfully to disrupt Rich’s talks.
A noted Scottish doctor involved with the BDS movement gave an anti-Israel rant following Rich’s talk at the Scottish Parliament – but paused to ask if Emek Hospital would be willing to provide surgical treatment to a patient who was an acquaintance of his in the region.
“I have a feeling that he was talking about a Palestinian and I gave him my contact information but I haven’t yet heard from the patient since I’ve returned to Israel,” said Rich. “I hope to hear from him soon.”
One of the most important points that Rich imparts to his audiences is that there are different ways to see the Jewish state. “People have a choice – to focus on hatred and divisiveness, or on real life examples of human co-existence. Emek Hospital is a story that needs to be on the table.”