Is it too unrealistic to think that peace might be better achieved at the point of a dentist’s drill instead of a gun?
We – an American Jew by way of South Africa and an American Muslim by way of Iraq – don’t think it’s unrealistic at all, because we have the proof.
Our story involves two doctors from Jerusalem: Musa Bajali and Adam Stabholz. Dr. Bajali, a Palestinian Christian, heads the dental school at Al-Quds University. Dr. Stabholz, an Israeli Jew by way of Poland, just retired as dean of the dental school at Hebrew University. In November 2006, Musa and Adam collaborated to sponsor a symposium of dental professionals from across the Middle East on the subject of implant dentistry.
While the subject of dental implants might seem mundane, the occasion was not. It marked the first time that dental leaders in the region united under the banner of improving oral health and, perhaps, relationships among those with a history of division.
As Musa said at the time, “I can’t do any scientific collaboration or research with any colleague in the world without doing it with my neighbor. We have to serve humanity.”
After the symposium, something magical happened. From that first flowering of cooperation and mutual respect grew an idea: What if the leaders of the world’s most prominent dental organizations took it upon themselves to advocate for peace, at least in their own community, as a way to spread the good work begun by Musa and Adam?
And so they did. Two years ago, in Philadelphia, representatives from 41 organizations, representing dental schools, associations, and companies, signed the charter to create the Alliance for Oral Health Across Borders. The signatories – including Drs. Bajali and Stabholz, as well as both of us – came from all continents and many faiths. They shared the ambitious goal of promoting peace globally through oral health, particularly in places facing social, economic and political unrest.
The Alliance isn’t so bold as to proclaim that it can solve world peace. Its goal is humbler but no less meaningful: By fostering more peace in the community of oral health, perhaps we can foster more peace in the community at large.
Our work continues to grow. In July, for example, oral health leaders from Jerusalem and around the world – Jews, Christians, Muslims – gathered at the campus of Al-Quds, as they did six years ago at Hebrew University, to commemorate a sculpture by the French artist Hedva Ser called the Tree of Peace. Blending Jewish, Christian and Muslim symbolism, the sculpture has become a beacon of hope in the oral health community. Four such sculptures now exist, the other two at the dental schools of Arizona’s A.T. Still University and Philadelphia’s Temple University. The Alliance is determined to make a forest of these Trees of Peace.
This leads us to ask a bigger question. If dentists can be pioneers in health diplomacy by focusing on what unites rather than what divides, why not cardiologists and neurologists and dermatologists and pediatricians? Why not lawyers and engineers and accountants? Why can’t every professional community reach across its own borders to develop relationships based initially on common professional interests but ultimately on mutual respect and understanding?
Nelson Mandela knows something about creating peace and harmony. In reference to his achievements on behalf of reconciliation in South Africa, Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
We don’t think peace is impossible, because we have seen it, in a garden in Jerusalem, tended by dentists, for the greater good of all of the children of Abraham.
Source: USA Today