When armed conflict is a way of life, a lasting resolution may seem beyond reach. And yet, while small acts of personal courage may not ultimately shape the larger outcome, there are some people on both sides who continue reaching for peace nevertheless.
Israeli kindergarten teacher and mother-of-three Idit Harel Segal wanted to do something meaningful for her 50th birthday. Rather than receiving a present, she chose to give one.
In memory of her late grandfather, Segal decided to donate a kidney. The life-saving gift Segal offered not only aligns with her Jewish faith—but was her way of extending an olive branch as well, because the kidney recipient was a 3-year-old Palestinian boy from the Gaza Strip.
Although there are strict restrictions in place limiting the number of entry permits, the Jerusalem-based, nongovernmental organization Matnat Chaim was able to arrange for the surgical procedure on humanitarian grounds. (To move the little boy to the head of the donor list in Gaza, his father also agreed to donate a kidney to an Israeli patient, a 25-year-old mother of two.)
With all the pieces in place, the surgery was scheduled for June 16, 2021, but before it took place, Segal wanted to make sure the little boy would know just how much giving this particular gift meant to her when he grew older, so she sent him a letter.
“You don’t know me… You don’t understand my language and I don’t understand yours, but soon we’ll be very close because my kidney will be in your body,” she wrote. “I hope with all my heart that this surgery will succeed and you will live a long and healthy and meaningful life.”
In the hospital, Segal met with the little boy and his mother.* She sat next to them on his hospital bed, and as the mother comforted her son, Segal sang to him until he nodded off.
“He fell asleep, then I left. I cried,” she recalled in an interview with the Associated Press (AP). “It was really moving. Deep inside I knew I did something good.”
Segal admits her course of action wasn’t received without conflict within her own family. Her husband, eldest son, and father initially opposed the plan.
But Segal—considering the gesture as the way to best honor the values of the beloved grandfather she’d lost five years earlier—held firm to a decision she says came on the heels of an 11-day outbreak of renewed hostilities.
“I threw away the anger and frustration and see only one thing. I see hope for peace and love,” she told AP. “And if there will be more like us, there won’t be anything to fight over.”
Eventually, her family came to appreciate and embrace the choice she’d made.
Segal believes that compared to the grander scheme of things, what she’s done is only “a small thing”—but even so, any step closer to peace taken in good faith is a step in the right direction.