The Human Spirit: Running from Islamic State and fixing a heart in Jerusalem
As we prepare to retell the story of our redemption from
slavery, I’m visiting with a refugee named Lina Mansur.
Lina, her husband
and their three children managed to flee the town of Qaraqosh, the so-called
Christian capital of Iraq, last summer. They are members of the old Chaldean
Christian community living around Mosul, and the forces of Islamic State cut a
swath across their country.
The would-be Islamic State caliphate is, of
course, infamous for its beheadings, for chopping off the hands of accused child
thieves and executing women for alleged adultery; eight-yearold girls are
married off to fighters. And these are punishments for Muslims, not infidel
Christians – who are forced to convert or die.
Imagine waking up in the
morning knowing Islamic State is heading your way.
Tens of thousands of Christians fled.
Pope Francis protested. A humanitarian disaster
was declared. US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power condemned the attacks.
And the Mansurs fled, leaving behind their
home and their life savings, in a bank account that may soon be worthless.
Now add to their journey their worries over
their very sick child.
their youngest – a roundfaced, dark-eyed girl, pretty like her mom – was born
with a hole in her heart. It was diagnosed when she was a month old. Surgery
would have to be swift, they were advised; the nearest specialists were in
But then came Islamic
State, and the Mansurs were refugees, depending on the kindness of strangers.
They no longer had the cash to pay their way.
What were the chances that the winsome Maryam,
this child on the run, would survive? Her lungs were already compromised.
They took refuge in the Kurdish stronghold
of Erbil; later, they found shelter in a nearby small town. Among the aid
services that came the way of Islamic State refugees were American physicians.
They shook their heads: It was already hard
for Maryam to breathe, she needed surgery. Yet there was no solution nearby.
Then, representatives of a Jerusalem- based
Christian organization called Shevet Achim turned up in Erbil and offered to
bring Maryam to Jerusalem.
Achim, which draws it name from Psalm 133, “How goodly it is for brothers to
dwell together in peace,” runs a no-frills communal hostel in an old stone
building on Hanevi’im Street in downtown Jerusalem. The volunteers pray and
study in the morning, and shuttle the sick children from the Palestinian
Authority and neighboring countries to Israeli medical centers.
The group’s founder, Jonathan Miles, offered to
take Lina and Maryam to Jerusalem for care.
Lina would have to leave the rest of the family
behind. She’d never traveled abroad.
Lina didn’t know much about Israel.
She certainly hadn’t heard anything good
about Israel living in Iraq; she’d never met a Jew. But Miles told her that
medical care was advanced there, and that the group would cover the costs.
In the end, she realized it was her
daughter’s only chance. They flew to Amman and then came over the Allenby Bridge
to the capital of the Jewish state.
The initial prognosis was not good.
Too much time had elapsed, and Maryam had
Western medicine kicked in.
was strong enough to sustain surgery.
“A hole in the heart” was the least of it.
Maryam’s complex condition included a heart tipped to the wrong side, undivided
heart chambers and additional challenges. Cardiovascular surgeon Eldad Erez said
he rarely sees more than one case this complicated a year in Israel, and maybe
two or three in the large regional center where he trained and did thousands of
operations in Texas.
also old for the surgery, at 18 months old.
But last week, Dr. Erez and his team labored
eight hours in the operating theater fixing her heart. During the operation,
they discovered fused coronary arteries that needed to be separated.
Lina sleeps in a room attached to the
Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. A stream of visitors from Shevet Achim and from
the hospital staff comes to visit her. Lina had no idea so many persons spoke
Arabic in Israel. Doctors, nurses and custodial staff sit with her; a hospital
clown comes to cheer her up.
then there are the mothers of the other patients, her roommates and new friends
in this sorority of hope and prayer for the healing of these children.
On the PICU roster, four of the eight beds
are today occupied by babies from Arabic-speaking families, including from
Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Truth be told, I might not have noticed it – this is business as usual at
Hadassah University Medical Center and other Israeli hospitals – but among the
visitors today is a famous American photographer who was inspired to take these
pictures in response to the latest UN accusations against Israel.
This latest report faults Israel for oppression
of women; Israel is the only country so singled out by the UN Commission on the
Status of Women.
According to the
report, Palestinian women under Israeli rule in particular are held back from
empowerment in their patriarchal society, because of Israel.
The vote wasn’t close. Twenty-seven member
states voted for it, two against and 13 abstained. The Middle Eastern countries
not faulted include Iraq, where a husband who murders his wife serves a maximum
of three years; Morocco, where 44 percent of women aged 15 to 49 are illiterate;
Egypt, where 91% of women undergo sexual mutilation; and Sudan, where a man can
marry a 10-year-old.
photographer takes shots of working women – Jews and Arabs – doctors, nurses and
technicians; and of moms, aunts and grandmothers sitting by the bedside of their
babies in the intensive care unit. She takes photos of Lina and Maryam, too.
They’ll want them when Maryam gets better.
The clown promises Lina she will come back
tomorrow, when Maryam will be well enough to be cheered by her.
She wants to hear Maryam laugh.