Druze Family Unites Jews and Muslims with the Gift of Life
by Karin Kloosterman

It has practically never happened in the Israeli Druze community. Maybe once or twice says Sheik Mohammed Heitib, the grandfather of Hommede Heitib. Hommede was only 15-and-a-half when the hospital committee at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel declared him brain dead 3 weeks ago. A near-fatal car crash had left Hommede in a coma.

Tamar Ashkenazi, the general director of national transplants in Israel did what she always does: she sent an organ donor coordinator to ask the family if they would consider organ donations. Against the norm in the Druze society, the family agreed. Today, their son Hommede's organs live inside four people -- two Israeli Muslims and two Israeli Jews.

It was a gift of life, and of hope, between people separated by conflict.

A miraculous decision

Says Ashkenazi, "The Druze families usually refuse, but we sent a coordinator anyway," she tells ISRAEL21c. "Maybe it's against their religion, I don't know. But when we asked the family they said they wanted to think about it and ask other people."

Although it is an offshoot of Islam, the Druze religion and culture is different from the mainstream Islam practiced today. Religious authority is strong in the tight-knit communities that are headed by religious leaders called imams and community heads called sheiks.

Hommede had both an uncle who was an imam and a grandfather who was a sheik. His father turned to them for advice. Mohammed Heitib, the grandfather gave the okay from the Druze religion, but told his son Youseff that the decision was ultimately his.

Donation saves four lives

The decision was life. Meeting this week at the Rabin Medical Center, Hommede's family - his father, mother, and sister and brother - got to see the people who benefited from their son's organs.

Today Yehudit, a 51 year-old Jewish Israeli, from Jerusalem is the proud owner of new lungs. "Because of you, my daughter has a mother," she told Hommede's family during the press briefing at the hospital.

A 12 year-old Muslim Israeli girl from an Arab village near Hadera received a liver; a Muslim Israeli man who had been on dialysis for 18 years received a kidney; and lastly Tsvia, an Israeli Jewish woman received a kidney and pancreas.

Uniting faiths in Israel

"It was a nice opportunity to gather and talk," says Ashkenazi, about the meeting, where the family received a plaque giving them thanks: "It was the first time three representatives from these different faiths gathered to talk about organ donation. It's more than a good story," she says. "Now the imams in their communities have called on the whole population to sign an organ donor card."

Says Mohammed Heitib, who lost his grandson: "We are the first or the second [in the Druze community] to give [organs] and people hope in their life," he told ISRAEL21c.

Although the meetings continue among the religious heads in his community, and there is still no final answer about the legal aspects of organ donation in their faith, says Heitib: "For the religion it's good if we can help people. We can give people life, complete life," he says. (This article was originally printed on December 15, 2008 in Israel 21c, and is being reprinted here with their permission. Click here to see the complete ISRAEL21c story.

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