A good friend of mine is looking for a hospital. She’s very pregnant, and it’s time to do the rounds, see which place is clean, which has the atmosphere you want, how many people they allow in the room, if they permit doulas and so on.
It’s also a chance for the hospitals to market themselves for a very important source of income. They get 8,000 shekels (just over 2,000 dollars) for each mother that comes through their doors, from National Insurance (Social Security). That’s a lot of money, especially when you multiply it by the number of women giving birth daily in Israel.
It took me back to the same tour that me and Karen did just before Emma was born. It was a tour at the hospital that Karen eventually gave birth in. The walk around the maternity ward was fine, and everything seemed quite orderly and impressive. At the end we were taken to a small conference room to talk a bit more about the procedures and to answer any questions we might have. Most people seemed to be worried about the usual things, like how many nurses are on each shift, how many doctors, how soon can you get an epidural. But then, one woman had a question about post-birth accomodation. She didn’t care how many new mothers would be in the room with her. All she cared about was if there were going to be any Arab mothers in the room with her (she didn’t even say “Arab”, but instead used the common “our cousins” term). And although she didn’t say it specifiaclly, bascially she wanted to know if this hospital was going to commit the sin of integration.
The shock was so big, I thanked God I was already in a hospital. But what shocked me more, was that everyone else in the room seemed relieved. Relieved that someone else finally asked the question for them, that they were itching to ask too. And if that wasn’t enough, the nurse’s response got to me even more. First of all, she wasn’t taken aback. I could tell she gets this one every time. And her answer was just as prepared, smooth and ironed out as her scrubs. I can’t tell you that I remember what her exact wording was, but I do remember she effortlessly managed to calm down this disconcerted woman by assuring her that Jewish and Arab mothers would not be holding their newborns in the same room, and at the same time managed to avoid making it sound like official hospital policy. A real pro.
As I said, Karen gave birth to Emma at this hospital, and we had a wonderful experience there. I had a few chances to walk around the ward, pushing little Princess Emma in her transparent cart, and to my dismay witnessed the segragation de facto that I expected to see. Funny enough, we eventually had an Arab mother in our room, probably because the “other” section was already full. Maternity wards were crowded those days, it was the baby boom of the second Lebanese War. I admit, she did speak a bit too loud on her cell phone at times, but show me an Israeli who doesn’t…
I remember recounting this story to a few of my friends later on, and their response was just as dissapointing. Most of it was along the lines of “What do you want? You just gave birth, do you really want a whole Arab hamula on your head playing darbuka all day? Isn’t giving birth hard enough already?” I don’t remember any Arabs playing darbuka in my hospital, or a hamula having a hafla in the hallway. If anything, the Israelis made a lot more noise.
In an article in Ha’aretz, January 2006, Eli Ashkenazi reported that two hospitals up north were doing the same thing. Back then, the spokesperson for the Ziv hospital in Safed said that “We don’t segregate, but we try to make it comfortable for the mothers. Usually, a woman wants to spend time with another woman who speaks her own language”. The West Galilee hospital in Nahariya used the language excuse as well. It’s strange, though, because I haven’t heard about Jewish mothers of Russian or Ethiopian descent being sent to other rooms. Hmmm…
To those couples worried about Arabs in their rooms, I can only say: Wouldn’t it be nice to just drop the prejudices during those first few days, when all of us are celebrating a new life in our families?
And to those hospitals: Obviously, in order to make future mothers feel like yours is the best place to give birth, I understand there are steps you need to take to ensure a vital source of income. But segregation? Come on…