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Power to the People

Tags: Diplomacy, People and Society, Inspiration and Hope, Zionism

By Erica Hirsch Edvi

Israel is no stranger to strikes. Whether it’s the all too frequent Histadrut Labor Union strike, or a one-hour kindergarten teachers’ strike to show solidarity with a colleague who was attacked, we’ve seen it all. We may be the Start Up Nation, an oasis of liberty in a desert of monarchies, autocrats, and the Arab Spring, but we can’t deny reality. Israel, the paradigm of Middle Eastern democracy, still shows traces of its socialist underpinnings. What this translates into is a freedom of the people to stand up against injustice and demand that the situation change.

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A banner in front of Hadassah Ein Kerem reads "Hadassah is closed. Please contact the government."

Those of us who are spending or have spent a good part of our lives in the Diaspora find this part of Israel hard to understand. Often the strikes will last several hours, or occasionally a few days. Now, as we are two weeks into an open-ended strike by the staff at both of Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospitals, many are quick to assign blame – to Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization who founded the hospital, to the Israeli management of the hospitals, to the banks offering exorbitant lines of credit, and to the government of Israel for lack of regulation.

What should concern everyone at this point is moving forward. How does Hadassah begin to dig itself out of this huge deficit without shutting down the hospital and while ensuring that its employees are paid their hard-earned salaries in full?

The day before the strike, I called Hadassah Ein Kerem to schedule a surgical procedure for one of my children. The surgery is scheduled for next week, but my optimism wanes with each passing day.

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A protester holds a sign saying "Save the Medicine at Hadassah."

I realize that this situation is beyond my control, and I won’t let myself get angry about it because I firmly believe that any employee, no matter what their level of distinction or credentials, no matter what their salary bracket, has a fundamental right to receive compensation for their work, as stipulated in the terms of their employment contract.

I know this seems like an over-simplified version of a terrible situation. Believe me, it is terrible. It’s horrible that the citizens of Israel are missing out on potentially life-saving diagnoses and their appointments are postponed because the staff at the hospital have chosen to stand up for their rights. But it is equally horrible that people should feel their livelihood is uncertain, that even though they may clock long hours at the office, often going above and beyond to demonstrate empathy and kindness in the face of difficult situations, they don’t have any assurances that their paycheck will be deposited into their bank account.

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Israeli consumers protesting the high price of cottage cheese.

I happen to think it’s quite remarkable that civilians in this country have the power to protest everything from the cost of education to the price of cottage cheese. As citizens of Israel, we all have the right to stand up for that which we deem unfair – for some, it’s wages, for others, it’s who gets drafted to the army. Regardless of your politics, take a moment to consider just what this means. This is the essence of Israeli democracy - the ultimate display of ALL Israeli citizens’ right to self-determination. This is hardly something we should take for granted.

I keep clicking to the news tabs in my browser to see if there are any updates. I have no idea when the strike will end or how it will affect the many people whose procedures have already been postponed. I certainly have no idea what it means for me once the hospital staff returns to work.

What I do know is that fortunately, my daughter’s surgery isn’t urgent, and even if delayed, it will happen eventually. I also know that I’ll get to see that same little girl grow up and one day, she’ll also have a voice, choosing to strike over the price of cottage cheese or fair wages, if she so pleases.

Update: After negotiating an agreement with the hospital administration, Hadassah nurses and general staff returned to work this morning. Doctors are still on strike as they continue their negotiations. I’m cautiously optimistic that they'll return to work by next week, but what happens once they return remains unclear.


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