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Nora sees “paying the duty of living in the Holy Land” as a privilege requiring self-sacrifice. She identifies the hardships in Palestine with the sufferings of Jesus. Mindful of Christ’s victory, she remains undaunted by obstacles. “How can we live in this country without hope?” she says.

About a mile away from Nora’s office, the Greek Catholic Society’s Infant Welfare Center is tucked amid the stone walls and arches of Old Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter. This small 700-year-old apartment is hidden from the nearby souvenir shops by a maze of narrow walkways and goes unnoticed by passing tourists. Inside, the clinic is a hub of activity for Palestinian mothers and their babies.

Georgette Rizek is the center’s director. She holds a special rapport with Palestinian refugees that come to her facilities for medical and dental treatment, literacy classes, and immunizations for their children. Like them, she is a refugee. During the Israeli War of Independence in 1947, her family fled Upper Bekaa, a town outside Jerusalem, and settled in Jordanian-administered East Jerusalem.

She calls herself “a nobody.” She has no college education and no formal medical training. But she loves the needy and is devoted to their care. The refugees call her “Im Johnny,” which is Arabic for “mother of Johnny.”

Im Johnny fights the injustice of neglect in health care and education. Without these basic services and job opportunities in the West Bank, thousands of Palestinians have emigrated to other countries to escape a seemingly hopeless situation.

Im Johnny has been solving problems since the beginning of the Palestinian conflict. Recognizing an absence of natal care among the poor, she and other women from her parish started a charitable society in 1950. They raised funds by church bazaars and dinners, calendar sales, society membership fees, and individual contributions.

In one room of a convent in the Old City, with a table, a stethoscope, and a volunteer doctor, she began serving Muslim and Christian refugees. Persevering through Arab-Israeli military conflicts, Jordanian and Israeli bureaucracy, and the continual need to generate funding, Im Johnny has managed the Infant Welfare Center six days a week for almost 40 years.

Today, the center has a staff of 13 Arab doctors and technicians, and one of the best medical labs in Arab East Jerusalem. Each year it serves more than 6,000 Palestinians who cannot afford private clinics or health insurance, yet who need quality care. Services have been expanded to include classes in preventive medicine and first aid, lessons for illiterate mothers, and a student fund to help children from the Old City parish to further their education.

The Palestinian uprising has put additional burdens on her work. Yet Im Johnny focuses on the need for justice. She speaks about “the rights that God has given” to all people in the Holy Land. “Palestine is not just for the Jews,” she tells her visitors. “God has given this land to everybody.”

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Tags: Refugees Children Palestine Sisters Health Care