Mercy amongst conflict and strife: How a baby’s plight transcended borders in the Middle East

by Father Bert Miller


Last month, we heard about Ata, who rode the bus from Ramallah to Bethlehem and then walked to southern Jerusalem for work each day. This month, we learn about another father, Jamal, who lives in Beit Jala, a suburb of Bethlehem, and drives daily to Ramallah for his accounting job.

Ata and Jamal are going in opposite directions every day. They do not know each other, but they share a great love for their children and their children for them.

I met Jamal one day when he was absent from his accounting job and instead was leading a tour of the Bethlehem area. Jamal had many tips for the priests on board the bus about how we could preach better when we got home! I am sure we were all taking great notes!

He also told us about himself. He had completed school in Bethlehem and gone on to higher education in the United States. He played basketball in the United States. He loved basketball.

When he got home to Beit Jala he thought he should get serious about finding a spouse and starting a family. However, in the Palestinian culture, any boy/man showing interest in a girl/woman is food for the rumor mill; the next day, the mothers and sisters are talking constantly about the date. Jamal did not like this and looked for a way to outsmart his mother and sisters.

After some thought, he decided to start a female basketball team. He advertised the start of a female basketball team and the girls started signing up. He says he knew the first night which one of the girls he would marry someday.

Under the guise of basketball practices and games – at home and away – Jamal and the chosen girl had a great courtship.

Finally, he asked her to marry him. And they listened to everyone talk!

Jamal and his wife were eager to have a family. Soon, they were pregnant. Oh, the joy!

As they continued to go to the doctor appointments, they learned there was an abnormality concerning the child in the womb. The child would be born with Down Syndrome. What would they do? Have an abortion or keep the child? They decided to walk with their child the life God would give her.

A girl was soon born with Down Syndrome and a hole in her heart. The birth was in a Bethlehem hospital in the West Bank. She would not live long without heart surgery. That surgery would have to take place in Israel.

It is rare that a Palestinian gets to be treated in an Israeli hospital. Palestinian presidents, yes; but not common citizens.

Jamal got the paperwork and started recording the story of his wife’s pregnancy and labor, of the child’s birth and hospital care. He wrote and wrote and prayed and prayed. The two families prayed.

Hospital doctors in Tel Aviv read the reports and worked with the Israeli government to make an exception for this little girl to come to Tel Aviv for the surgery that would save her life. Jamal got the answer to his prayer. The family was soon off to Tel Aviv, proper papers in hand, for the surgery that saved this little girl’s life.

The surgery was about a year ago. I met her a couple of days before Christmas in 2016 at the family home in Beit Jala. Jamal and baby are happy and play together every day. His wife works from home so she can be with the infant girl every day.

Jamal plans to continue giving tours of his native West Bank so he can be closer to home. That is a great idea for any father who wants to be a part of his child’s life every day.

Happy Father’s Day to Jamal and Ata and all the fathers of the world and especially those of the Fargo Diocese.

Father Bert Miller serves as pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Park River and St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Veseleyville.

Editor’s note: Stories of Faith is a recurring feature in New Earth. If you have a faith story to tell, contact Father Bert Miller at