MECC has succeeded in promoting cooperation through a major health initiative that builds trust by respecting cultural and religious sensitivities, social cohesion, agency-government relationships, and accountability to the individual communities. Ultimately, such cooperation can highlight effective peace-building roles for health professionals in regions of conflict.
Inter alia, MECC's founders considered the question of how such an organization might facilitate cross-border collaborations between Arabs and Israelis. The vision was simple yet compelling – to use health needs as a basis for cooperative projects that enhance people-to-people engagement, embodying the “Health as a Bridge for Peace” concept advanced by the World Health Organization (Publication No. 8).
Challenges to this peaceful paradigm were faced along the way. Members of the Consortium, took Arab-Israeli sensitivities into consideration, with the result that the involvement of a trusted third-party coordinator – in this case MECC – was recognized as vital for attracting colleagues from countries in conflict and managing cooperation during periods of conflict – a role that has been underscored in other Arab-Israeli initiatives. By way of example, in periods of heightened tensions, such as during the second Intifada in September 2000, the second Israeli-Lebanese War in 2006, and the more recent Gaza conflicts in 2009, 2012 and 2014, special attention was given by MECC staff members to maintaining good relationships with colleagues residing in countries involved in hostilities, and reinforcing morale through numerous telephone calls, Internet connections and face-to-face meetings in the region. Active involvement by Jordanian, Egyptian and Turkish colleagues gave MECC flexibility in coordinating various activities which included all MECC partners. These regular exchanges focused not only on sustaining project activity despite numerous hurdles, but also strengthened personal relationships and mutual confidence among colleagues during difficult times.
Through this process, new opportunities for mitigating enmity can be developed. Given that suffering at the end of life is universal, there is a very special opportunity for palliative care clinicians working in regions of conflict. Where end-of-life care is so often ignored or neglected, palliative care emphasizes humanity and respect for human dignity in a unique way. Hence, the delivery of palliation holds the potential to break down barriers of suspicion and hatred and to reverse habits of depersonalization, dehumanization and demonization.
It is MECC's profound conviction that health issues offer original ways leading to a new dialogue for mutual understanding. The Consortium’s goal is to make cancer palliation a shared objective for neighboring populations. Through experience, even in settings of political animosity and differences, this sort of humanitarian cooperation is possible and positive.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is a lack of communication and understanding of cultural and faith differences between people in neighboring countries. MECC trains oncology professionals to have more open, and ultimately more fruitful, discussions among themselves in the region.
Professor Silbermann offers the following suggestions on how professionals can overcome cultural, faith, and communications barriers to provide the best possible way to a more peaceful environment for future collaborations: Become aware of any sensitivity; start by listening to colleagues' concerns by asking questions about what they want their relationship to look like. “Personalized collaborations aren't just treatment schedules and drugs,” said Professor Silbermann, who suggests professionals conduct dialogues including some personal questions so they can get to know their partners better and learn what barriers to closer relationships they may face. Try to keep a low profile at times of crisis and always communicate at the same eye level.
While some seek peace in the Middle East through political means, others are looking to help patients with cancer find peace through palliative care. This endeavor is bringing oncology professionals together across the region’s national borders and cultural boundaries to implement solutions and improve patient care.