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{Originally posted to the Tower Magazine website}

Conan O’Brien, the comedian and popular late night television host, said on his recent trip to Israel that the doctors at a northern Israeli hospital who treat Syrian patients deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

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O’Brien was in Israel to produce a segment for an ongoing series called Conan Without Borders. For much of the time he was in Israel, O’Brien appeared to be having fun and joking around. But when he visited Ziv Medical Center in Safed, he took a more serious approach.

The comedian met a number of Syrians being treated at the hospital, their faces obscured for their own safety. He also met with the doctors and told them, “I am amazed and excited by what is being done here at Ziv for the sake of people from a neighboring country and an enemy, and I think you are the ones who need to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.”

While it’s often easy to dismiss the pronouncements of celebrities, O’Brien’s tribute to the Israeli doctors should get serious consideration. It isn’t infrequent when someone is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the promise of making the world a more peaceful place that subsequent events and actions show that the award was not deserved.

In 1994, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the prize to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who won the award along Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. The Nobel Committee explained that Alfred Nobel’s vision was to give the award to someone who had “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.” Arafat was credited, along with his co-honorees with “a political act which called for great courage on both sides, and which has opened up opportunities for a new development towards fraternity in the Middle East.”

But Arafat’s subsequent record shows that he did little to take advantage of this “new development toward fraternity” with Israel.

For years after the Oslo Accords, Arafat turned a blind eye towards terror directed at Israel. But it got worse.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton arranged a summit for Arafat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to hammer out a peace agreement. Despite what were considered to be unprecedented concessions by Barak to the Palestinians, Arafat turned him down. Two months later, Arafat launched a deadly uprising in which over 1,000 Israelis were killed.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, also refused to make peace with Israel, notably turning down an offer from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.

Israel has made concrete concessions in the name of peace, leaving all major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank in 1995, and fully withdrawing from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

In an assessment of controversial Nobel Peace Winners published in 2011, Time Magazine observed regarding Arafat that “an uneasy relationship with Hamas, allegations of corruption and an aversion to compromise mean the ambitions of the Oslo accords were never fully realized.”

In an essay published by The Times of Israel a few months later, Jay Nordlinger, was more direct, calling Arafat “the worst man ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Compare Arafat’s record with that of the Israeli doctors at Ziv.

As O’Brien noted, the doctors of Ziv were treating “people from a neighboring country and an enemy.” Arafat posed as a friend but continued to treat Israel as an enemy.

Aboud Dandachi, a Syrian refugee who created a website Thank You Am Israel, which expresses gratitude for the Israel and Jewish efforts to help Syrians, commented on O’Brien’s Facebook page:

Yes, thank you for highlighting this Mr O’Brien! Israel’s assistance to Syrians has been one of the greatest and most under-reported humanitarian initiatives in living memory. Thousands of Syrians are alive today thanks to Israeli medical teams, and thousands more have use of their limbs thanks to the world class Israeli surgeons and staff.

And for years now Israeli private citizens have been collecting medical supplies and sending them over the border to hospitals inside Syria itself. They have proven far more effective than the bloated and politically hamstrung UN efforts inside my former country.

Perhaps a terrorist professing to abandon terror is a better story than a group of unassuming doctors treating anonymous patients. But Arafat was awarded for the promise of his expressed change of heart – a promise that was never realized.

In contrast, the Israeli doctors at Ziv have already accomplished a lot. They’re not just treating injuries and delivering babies. In extreme cases they are reconstructing shattered bones and faces and rescuing people from almost certain death.

And as Dandachi’s comments attest, the Israeli doctors are doing tremendous work “for fraternity between nations.”

Conan at Ziv Hospital
Conan at Ziv Hospital
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David Gerstman blogged as Soccer Dad from 2003 to 2010. Formerly a computer programmer, he is now a blogger for The Israel Project’s The Tower blog.
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