Not many doctors can say they have treated terrorists and a brother who was seriously wounded by one.
Dr. Yitz Glick is one of them.
It wasn’t easing pinning Glick – who travels monthly between the US and Israel — down for an interview. And when I finally did, his available window was Tisha B’av. Assuming he’d be fasting, I asked him for the time of the day that he’d have the most energy. “I’ll be finishing a 15-hour night shift at 8am, then I’ll head straight to shul,” he said. “I’ll be at home for an hour before I go back to work—can we talk then?”
“Energy” was no determinant for him.
Born in New York City to Modern Orthodox parents who espoused liberal values, tolerance was the fabric of Glick’s upbringing. “In our home there was no room for stereotypes or racism”, he tells me. “It was the 60’s and integration was the way of the future.”
Along with a commitment to liberal values was a strong attachment to Zionism. In 1974, an opportunity came up that Glick’s father couldn’t pass on: He was asked to help establish the medical school at Ben Gurion University as Associate Dean and Chief of Medicine in the hospital.
Growing up dati leumi in Be’er Sheva, interactions with Palestinians were tangential. A stroll through a Bedouin shouk, a drive through Bethlehem. The contact was minimal at best.
On June 6, 1982, that would change. As a 22-year-old commander of the tank corps stationed in Lebanon, Glick was first exposed to the crudeness of Middle Eastern life: war. “These were guys I ate two meals a day with—suddenly, I’m at the table alone. Fifteen of my soldiers had been killed.”
From the cushy American life in Brooklyn, to a relatively calm adolescence in southern Israel, the death of friends was a defining moment. “I found myself in the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I felt that each individual has responsibility to help bring peace.”
Having been just accepted to law school before the war, Glick decided to change course.
“The war made me want to enter a compassionate profession, one where I could leave a mark on directly saving lives. As a doctor, you’re at front lines of saving lives of both Israeli and Palestinians. Hospitals are an unusual opportunity to interact with both sides.”
From 1987 to 1994, Dr. Glick spent his clinical school and residency treating victims from the first Intifada along with their assailants. Once again, he found himself at the pinnacle of the conflict.
Yet the violence he was exposed to only served as an impetus to advance peace.
“It says in Ethics of Our Fathers that Aharon the Priest didn’t only love peace. He is described as a rodef shalom, someone who chased it down. As Jews, our job is to find every opportunity to make peace at any given moment.”
During the second intifada, he opened the Efrat Emergency Medical Center (EEMC), which is open to both Israelis and Palestinians (at discounted rates).
In the course of developing it, his team visited the Peres Centre for Peace, a non-profit organization whose goal is to realize Peres’ vision for a prosperous Israel within a peaceful Middle East. Glick learnt that primary care medicine had made giant strides in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, but that there was a need for emergency medicine.
Filling that void would become his raison d’etre.
“In the Palestinian villages specialty medicine is privatized and very expensive. I wanted to find a way to make it accessible to those who couldn’t afford it.”
Glick decided to arrange medical calls directly to Palestinian homes—free of charge. He felt that serving the patients in their home would allow for both parties to see each other on an equal level.
“As a physician, the number one thing is to communicate properly— a paternalistic approach doesn’t work. When I’m in a patient’s home we can see eye to eye.”
But his mission hasn’t been without painful setbacks. On an early evening in February, 2004, Glick’s beeper went off, notifying him of a car accident two miles south of his home in Efrat. Glick jumped into an army security vehicle and was the first medical person to arrive on the scene. The victim had no heartbeat, a result of suffering gunshot wounds to his neck, jaw and face. Taking a closer look, Glick was shocked: The bullet-riddled victim was the person he carpooled with daily to work—his close friend and colleague, Dr. Shmuel Gillis.
Only two weeks earlier, Dr. Glick had called Dr. Gillis, a leading hematologist, to seek his advice on a special medication for a 20-year-old Palestinian patient of his. “Dr. Gillis gave his heart and soul to so many Palestinians and was murdered by Arafat’s top aide,” said Glick. “Arafat’s response to the murder was ‘We didn’t mean to murder that settler’.”
Nevertheless, Glick persisted. “Every cell of my body is devoted to this issue. Our first step has to be to see each other as human beings.”
To honor his work, he was awarded the Presidential Award for Volunteerism by Shimon Peres in 2009, and the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism in 2012.
For safety reasons, Glick doesn’t always wear a kipa when he visits the villages and sometimes assumes the persona of a tourist. But when I ask him if he’s ever afraid to visit the towns, he’s uncomfortable with the question. “They open their doors with full heart and soul. It’s a non-threatening encounter—and I’d rather not assume that anyone there wants me dead.”
Glick’s commitment to coexistence was tested once more in October 2014 as his El AL plane landed in Tel Aviv. He turned on his phone to discover that his brother Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a Likud Member of Knesset and Temple Mount activist, was critically injured after being shot four times by a Palestinian outside Jerusalem’s Begin Center.
He spent the next few weeks by his brother’s bed-side hoping and praying for his recovery. “There was an element of pain and frustration; it was a punch to the stomach of anyone who supports coexistence. But on the other hand, being committed to it, this becomes another reason why we should be out there to advance peace. It was a painful setback for those of us convincing our neighbors and friends of what we do, but the message is that we can’t give up.”
Glick says that he received numerous phone calls from his Palestinian friends after his brother’s injury. “It may not be their company line that they can say to the media, but on a personal level they express opposition to the violence.”
Glick’s desires for peace, especially as a settler, set him aside as dreamer and a pragmatist, all at once. “As Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, we have to be the first ones to support peaceful coexistence that maintains the Palestinian’s dignity… they’ve been here generations and feel connected with this land. Our job is to listen to their narrative while explaining ours too.”
When Glick reminisces about Sadat’s euphoric visit to Israel, which resulted in peace with Egypt, you can sense his nostalgia for a leader who can achieve the same with the Palestinians. Although he refers to Aharon the Priest, he’s equally reminiscent of Moses, who was praised for his humility. He may not be Menachem Begin but when he’s on a house call in Beth Jalla, he’s bridging worlds and creating his own modest peace treaties, one patient at a time.
Batsheva Neuer is a writer living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.