In April of 2002, I flew to the Middle East to cover a story in which I became deeply, personally involved. As a news anchor for KSHB-TV in Kansas City, Missouri, I travelled with a photographer to Afghanistan. Dr. Gary Morsch of Heart to Heart International invited us to accompany him as HHI delivered medical aid to people there.
Just before we left Kansas City, some Palestinian friends asked me to go to the West Bank and Gaza to report on the story of how the people there were suffering. This was during the height of the suicide bombings in Israel and the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Muslims, Christians, and Jews were all suffering. The residents of Gaza didn’t have medicine or food. Dr. Morsch agreed that after a shorter stay than planned in Afghanistan, we would go on to Gaza.
In Afghanistan, I had seen so much horrible poverty and hopelessness that I didn’t know what to expect in the West Bank. Flying into Tel Aviv, I was sitting next to a man who was praying using his prayer beads. I remembered that I had a tiny rosary in my purse. I took it out and began to pray.
As soon as our group left the plane, Israeli security guards stopped us for questioning. A misunderstanding erupted during the interrogation. Tension escalated, and one guard ordered us back on the plane: “You are going to Jordan and leaving all your stuff here.” Dr. Morsch argued with him and finally told us: “Sit down. If they need to arrest us, let them arrest us.” The plane to Jordan left without us, and we had time to figure out what we were going to do.
A thought popped into my mind: Even though my friend Susan lived back home, I knew she was well-connected and might be able to help us. I called my husband—1:30 a.m. Kansas City time—and asked him to call Susan. He did. Susan knew someone who worked in the Israeli health ministry and was able to call him to vouch for us. Nearly five hours later, we were finally free to go on.
We first visited Jewish children who had been disabled and traumatized by the violence around them. We then hired a man to drive us to Bethlehem Bible College. About halfway there, military activity around us escalated. “It’s too dangerous to go on!” the driver declared. We stopped and took refuge in a nearby hotel lobby.
A Dangerous Situation
While waiting in the lobby, we heard the sound of gunshots. Israeli soldiers had taken over the hotel we were in and were firing directly across the street, where the Church of the Nativity was under siege.
Needing to get back to Tel Aviv and feed video back to my station, we were finally able to hire another driver who would risk the trip. He drove slowly down the narrow streets with the car’s caution lights flashing. All along the way, guns of soldiers were trained on us as we drove past. We finally made it back to Tel Aviv, where we were met by even more armed soldiers.
The next morning we drove to a Palestinian clinic in Gaza. We had a short time to take some video and do some interviews. Everywhere I looked, I saw distraught mothers holding malnourished-looking children. One mother captured my attention. She held a beautiful baby girl whose body was completely limp. This mother was walking around, hoping someone would help her. I asked the doctor in charge if I could interview her. He said, “Yes, if it’s okay with her.” While the doctor translated, the woman began to tell me her story. She had three children prior to this one who had died. This little girl had been born with club feet and hands. Because her hips were dislocated, she was unable to use her legs. This child had no hope of ever walking without some kind of serious medical intervention.
I started to cry, which greatly surprised the doctor. Perhaps he had not expected American journalists to have feelings. As the interview continued, a bond of friendship grew between the doctor and me and between the mother and me. Her name was Intisar, and her daughter’s was Doa’a, which means “prayer of hope.” I left affirming, “This child is going to have her surgery.”
When I returned to the United States, I worked with Kansas Congressman Dennis Moore’s office and with some wonderful people on the Jewish Community Relations Bureau in Kansas City—all were trying to help this Palestinian family. I contacted the U.S. State Department, completed paperwork, and searched for doctors and a hospital that would donate their services.
A few months later, Intisar, her husband, and Doa’a came to Kansas City. They stayed here for six months, while Doa’a had surgery and therapy that enabled her to walk and use her hands. She’s come back twice for further therapy.
During the spring of 2007, Intisar’s husband called Nick Awad, our friend here in Kansas City who spoke Arabic, to tell us that Intisar had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course, I wanted to help Intisar but wondered how I would find a doctor and a hospital that would donate very expensive, time-consuming cancer treatment for her.
I asked a surgeon I knew from Medical Missions Foundation, and she offered to do the surgery. She contacted specialists needed for chemotherapy and other treatment. They all agreed to treat Intisar. The CEO at a local hospital offered his facility.
After a biopsy, it was determined that Intisar, who was 35 years old at the time, had an extremely aggressive form of breast cancer. Although she had a life-threatening, allergic reaction to her first chemotherapy drug, they found one that worked for her. After having chemo and surgery, Intisar is now cancer-free.
A Dream Come True
During her mother’s treatment in Kansas City, Doa’a was able to go to school. This had been one of her dreams. Doa’a was six years old—so tiny she wore size four clothes. When I took her shopping for school clothes, she found a jumper she really liked. She looked at the jumper, which was a size six, saying, “Elizabeth, this one is good!” When I put it on her, she didn’t come close to filling it out. When she looked at herself in the mirror, however, her big brown eyes shone brightly. She twirled around in front of the mirror as if to say, “I’m a school girl at last!”
I believe God put Doa’a and her family in front of me, questioning, “What are you going to do for them?” When I took that first step to try to help, so many other people came forward—Christians, Jews, and Muslims; doctors, politicians, and friends—to help my Palestinian family. Everywhere I turned, somebody knew somebody else who could do whatever was needed to be done. It has been miraculous.
As a news anchor, sometimes the only thing that I can do is put people’s stories on the air and let other people decide what they can do to help. Other times, however, I can help. A while back, I was in Kansas Senator Sam Brownback’s office covering a news event and told him about my Palestinian family. The senator reminded me of something Mother Teresa had said: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” I believe that we can each make a difference by helping one other person. It’s a good feeling, and one person after another, we end up helping our whole world.