HAIFA: Each morning since February, Israeli Arab doctor Khitam Hussein has woken up before dawn to rush to a job on the frontline of the country’s fight against the novel coronavirus.
Hussein, 44, has emerged as a prominent member of Israel’s often marginalised Arab community which is now playing an essential role in confronting an unprecedented health crisis.
She heads the outbreak response at the Rambam Hospital near Haifa, the largest hospital in northern Israel, and has been working 12-hour days for months.
“It is incredibly difficult work, no day is like another,” she told AFP.
“Our lives have been turned upside down.”
Israel has registered more then 15,000 cases of Covid-19, with 202 deaths.
Hussein said that amid the global pandemic, individual moments with patients have created some lasting memories.
She recalled an elderly couple arriving at the hospital, both seriously ill with the virus.
As the husband’s condition deteriorated rapidly, they allowed the couple a final moment together.
“We allowed his sick wife, despite her condition, to speak to her husband — to say goodbye,” she said. The husband died shortly after.
“As a human it’s difficult, all the medical staff were saddened.”
Israeli Arabs are the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land in 1948, the year the Jewish state declared its independence.
They make up around 20 percent of the population and are heavily represented in the medical profession.
In 2018, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed though parliament a controversial law declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people.
It sparked fury among Israeli Arabs and other minorities who saw it as denying their right to live in the country.
The health crisis has reignited the debate, with frontline medical workers highlighting the role Arabs play in Israeli society.
Famous Israeli artists have held online fundraisers for the Rambam hospital, holding it up as a symbol of coexistence between Arabs and Jews.
Hussein has personally been highlighted multiple times.
Yair Lapid, head of the largest opposition party in Israel’s parliament and a critic of the nation-state law, said Netanyahu had consistently ignored the contribution of Arab medics.
“If… you’re an Arab doctor or nurse in a hospital who hasn’t shut an eye in weeks, you should know that they won’t amend the nation-state law,” Lapid said in a recent tweet.