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'The Cat in the Hat' and Gaza

MY PEDIATRICIAN friend, whom I'll call Ariela, works in a public clinic in a dusty working class Israeli city. Ariela and I have been friends since we met as college students in our native United States. Now we both live in Israel.

In the past we have usually managed to ignore our divergent political outlooks. This summer, in light of imminent Israeli disengagement from Gaza, I find it difficult. I know that Ariela and I will always go to bat for one another, but high emotions can polarize even old friends. If you look at Ariela's car today you will likely see a symbolic orange ribbon tied defiantly onto the antenna. For she and her family are part of the extreme right that supports the prerogative of Jewish Israelis to continue living in the occupied Gaza Strip. A bumper sticker proclaims her identification with hard-liners.

When Ariel Sharon announced his proposed disengagement plan from Gaza, Ariela's teenage daughter was adamant about attending protest demonstrations. At first Ariela tried to dissuade her, afraid of violence the girl might meet. And, she felt, it was unethical for grownups to send their adolescents to fight their ideological battles for them. She compared it to another practice she vocally abhors -- Palestinian parents supporting their children who sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers. But Ariela's family was united in its desire to protest the Israeli disengagement, and slowly she acquiesced to her 10th grader participating as well.

On Israeli Independence Day, Ariela and her husband boarded a chartered bus to show solidarity with their Jewish brethren in Gaza who would soon be forced to evacuate. A few thousand settlers are protected by a heavy contingent of Israeli troops stationed in the midst of over one million local Palestinian inhabitants.

However, Ariela's personal example doesn't match her rhetoric. Situated in a region where Arab and Jewish Israelis live in close proximity, Ariela's practice includes patients of both nationalities. Although she is a salaried employee, Ariela has brought to her far-flung location the child-friendly ethos she learned in her medical training in top-level American universities and hospitals. The colorful Hebrew translations of Dr. Seuss books beckoning in the waiting room were purchased with her own money.

One day coming out of her examining room Ariela realized that the Arab parents cradling sick children in their laps did not reach for those books. Soon thereafter Ariela approached an Arab family, holding out her personal check. The next time they were in an Arabic language bookstore, would they mind bringing back a selection of children's books in Arabic? She wanted someone like ''The Cat in the Hat" to allay the apprehension and pain of all her patients.

During one of the stormy winter days of our Intifada, Ariela drove home after work in her new car through a cold driving rain that punishes her desert area. Through the rivulets on her windshield flashed the image of a woman walking in the downpour holding a toddler by each hand, and with a kindergarten age child in tow. Ariela screeched to a halt. Ignoring their muddy shoes and soaked clothes, she motioned the Bedouin woman and her babies into the dry car, drove them into the town in which they lived, and delivered them to their doorstep.

Another afternoon Ariela got a series of frantic calls to her cell phone from Boston. The child of one of her Arab families had injured himself in a hotel bathroom. They refused to take any step until passing it by the doctor they trusted so much back home in Israel.

I, on the other hand, welcome the end of the Israeli presence in Gaza, hoping it will mark the first step toward permanent peace. Coming from the opposite end of the political spectrum, my husband and I also went on a chartered bus trip this year -- subsidized by the peace camp. We were driven on a tour to see how the lands around Jerusalem could be traded in an eventual settlement. But aside from my liberal rhetoric, I have done little to advance the cause of peace and coexistence.

Ariela, who supports a philosophy which sets the rights of one group above the rights of others, will go to great lengths to allow Jews to live wherever they want in the biblical territory of Israel, even when it encroaches on others.

Yet Ariela's behavior embodies her Hippocratic oath. Who am I to judge her?

Helen Schary Motro is a member of Tel Aviv University's faculty of law.

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