The journey to this momentous event was arduous. Until this week, the nearest radiotherapy centers for the 1.5 million residents of the Galilee were in Haifa or the center of the country. Seriously ill cancer patients had to spend around four hours travelling every time they needed radiation therapy, which is often a daily treatment that lasts only a few minutes.
The Shatil-led Arab-Jewish Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee, together with cancer patients, their families, activists, and medical professionals from Ziv hospital, waged a relentless struggle. Professor Jamal Zidan, Director of the Oncology Institute at Ziv hospital, led the campaign.
During those eight years, the Ministry of Health made repeated proposals to expand existing radiation therapy centers, rather than building a new one that would cost about 48 million NIS. Then, in 2009, the ministries of health and finance approved building the facility on the condition that the hospital raise 50% of the needed capital on its own.
The Health Forum and students from Tel Hai College organized a huge campaign which included bringing cancer patients to testify at Knesset committee meetings. Yielding to the pressure, the government made sporadic contributions to the project over the years, while the hospital managed to raise some of the capital on its own.
Finally, in 2015, the government gave the go-ahead to begin construction.
So it was with a real sense of pride and achievement that Professor Zidan called Fathi Marshood, Shatil’s Director of Shared Society:
“I’m inviting you personally to our opening,” he said, “Without Shatil and the Forum this wouldn’t have happened.”
And on June 19, 2017, patients, activists and doctors gathered to watch Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman formally open the new radiation therapy center. Netanyahu commended the work of Minister Litzman towards narrowing the gap between Israel’s urban center and its periphery. And while these dignitaries attracted most of the attention at the event, NIF and Shatil later received wide and positive coverage in the Israeli press for our contribution.
Haaretz newspaper reporter Noa Shpiegel said:
“NIF / Shatil. . . are the ones who managed the struggle throughout the long years – even though it’s very nice that they [Netanyahu and Litzman] came to cut the ribbon, and finally there is a radiation therapy center. I want to remind everyone that we are in 2017 and until now, people from the north had to travel, at best, an hour and 40 minutes to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.”