The surgeons at Hadassah were impressed. "We hoped that medicine could be a bridge to peace," says Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Hadassah's director. They helped the Palestinian, who was born in the Dehaisha refugee camp near Bethlehem and studied medicine in Jordan, enroll for advanced training in plastic surgery at Hadassah, a privilege few Palestinian surgeons have enjoyed.
Abu Ajamia, now 46, crosses the battle lines daily. It's a frustrating six-hour round trip before the intifadeh it took him just 35 minutes through a series of checkpoints, where he often faces rudeness from Israeli soldiers who don't believe he's a surgeon at an Israeli hospital. He seems almost embarrassed to complain. "Of course, the worst thing is that I often miss the morning rounds because of the delays," he says.
Abu Ajamia also has to be diplomatic at Hadassah, where he operates on Israeli victims of Palestinian terror. When one of them refuses to be treated by an Arab he doesn't make a fuss, just moves on to the next patient. His boss, Arieh Eldad, the head of hadassah's Department of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery, won a seat in parliament in January on the ticket of a right-wing party that advocates the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, and operates with a loaded pistol in the back pocket of his green scrubs. But Abu Ajamia doesn't let this bother him. "One's point of view doesn't affect the treatment," he says. "A patient is a patient and that's it."
Hadassah is training 10 Palestinian surgeons in its different departments, but many of them keep it quiet. Abu Ajamia says he has "heard many ugly words" from Palestinians who believe he should stay in Hebron. He's working in his spare time to build facilities for laparoscopic surgery in Hebron. At Hadassah, which has treated more Israeli victims of intifadeh terror attacks than any other Israeli hospital, 35% of terror victims need plastic surgery, particularly skin grafts for burns. Last year, Abu Ajamia found himself treating two victims of a Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem and at the same time a 9-year-old Hebron boy who was terribly burned when an Israeli rocket exploded beside him. "Military men on both sides are crazy and lack wisdom," he says, with a deep, slow nod of his head. "They have no hearts." For Abu Ajamia, there are no enemies, only patients.