"The Israelis are very fine people; they are clever, but they are not wise. No one wants to be occupied. They damage themselves. How can we have peace when there is no justice?"
When I visited Betty Majaj last week I did not expect to encounter a fire-brand whose words and wisdom still ring in my head and heart. I toured the Princess Basma Centre for Disabled Children which Betty heads to learn more about an institution I had heard about through the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ). Since I am very near Betty's age, I can say that she looks like a refined, mild-mannered senior citizen. She is indeed refined and mild-mannered and she was a gracious host to me later in the week when I went for tea with friends at her home. But this is one powerful woman who speaks the truth in love. People like Betty Majaj are the best friends Israel will ever have.
Betty has been director of the Princess Basma Centre for Disabled Children for more than 20 years. She was born in Lebanon, trained as a nurse and married a physician who later became the Minister of Health in Jordan and, later still, medical director of two hospitals in Jerusalem. I visited her at the Centre a week ago and joined her for tea last Friday at her lovely home just a few minutes walk from St. George's Guest House. If a tour through the Princess Basma Centre doesn't break your heart and, at the same time, inspire a vibrant new hope, nothing will. The Centre runs a school and treatment center for 756 boys and girls, serving children with cerebral palsy, the hearing-impaired, creating prosthetic devices for children wounded by the violence, and a great deal more. What was most striking though was the atmosphere of warmth, professionalism and competency that pervades every aspect of the Centre. Room is provided for mothers to stay overnight with their children when they are brought for treatment. An Empowerment of Women for Women helps teaches Palestinian women to demand their rights. Since West Bankers can no longer come to Jerusalem, two satellite clinics have been established in the north near Nablus and in the south near Hebron. One of the Centre staff described a 5 year study comparing the traditional training for cerebral palsied children with a new functional training that has already shown promising results. Another showed me the workshop where he builds prosthetic limbs for amputees and braces for cerebral palsied children. The carbon fiber and titanium joints used in his work are state of the art and very expensive.
It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the loving care and professional treatment children and their families experience at the Princess Basma Center. I rarely speak of miracles, but the term applies when, against all odds, a person like Betty and her staff not only bring new life to disabled children but, by their words and the actions, become powerful witnesses for the justice and peace so desperately needed in this land.