A Lifeline of its Own

Yael Noy - The Road to Recovery


Still Driving

At 7 am on October 8, Yael Noy’s parents were still barricaded inside their safe room in a kibbutz near the Gaza border. All the while, the Israeli volunteers that she oversees were driving to pick up Palestinian patients and their chaperones from outside West Bank checkpoints. 

Like every weekday morning, they were there to meet them and take them to the hospital  for medical treatment at Israeli hospitals –  children and adults with cancer, those getting follow-up care from organ transplants, people with heart conditions and recovering from burn injuries and the list goes on. They are volunteers with The Road to Recovery, the organization that Yael leads as Chief Executive, working to transport Palestinians who need medical treatment from checkpoints to hospitals. 

At that point, not only were battles from Hamas’ invasion of Israel the day before still ongoing, but she and others from The Road to Recovery still didn’t know the fate of many of their own volunteers who serve Palestinians living in Gaza, many from kibbutzim and moshavim near the border. One of those volunteers was Vivian Silver, a well-known peace activist from Kibbutz Beeri whose fate at that point was unknown and then soon went to be on the list of probable hostages stolen into Gaza. Weeks later she’d be identified as among those murdered by Hamas, burned to death in her home on October 7. 

Despite the uncertainty and the ongoing fear that day and the days that followed, “I knew that we’re keep on doing what we need to do,” says Yael on the work of The Road to Recovery. “It’s half a year later, but we’re still doing it. I don’t think there’s an option to stop.”

Being active and “doing good and doing something” she says has become a lifeline of its own. 

Refusing to Lose Empathy

She would not let the atrocities committed by Hamas erase her empathy, she vowed. Still, it was incredibly hard with so many emotions competing with one another in those early days, to know how to navigate on any level. “I was so angry, you know, it was so confusing,” she says.

Five volunteers were murdered and three taken hostage, one who has since been returned.  Yael is in close touch with her colleagues inside Gaza who told her that several of the patients that had been driven by Road to Recovery volunteers had been killed in the war. Others are short of vital medicine they need. Some of the cancer patients, but definitely not all of them, have been able to leave Gaza to get treatment abroad, in Egypt, Turkey, or Europe.

Yael is working with their Gaza coordinator to help get these patients treatment abroad, by sending paperwork and records from Israeli hospitals. Yael is frantic about them and is in daily touch through text messages and phone calls. “I’m really scared about what is going on with them … most of them are in Rafah in tents,” she says, without enough food. 

“My heart is with them,” she says. “I think the most important thing that I can do for them is to be witness for what they’re going through. And to listen for them and to tell them I’m standing with them. And I think it’s a lot. It’s almost the most important thing that I can do now.”

Volunteers, New and Old

The Road to Recovery has over 1,000 Israeli volunteers and since October 7 some decided to stop out of fear, others decided to focus their efforts on Israelis impacted by October 7, but there were also new volunteers that have signed on. Among the veteran volunteers are those from kibbutzim that were attacked, who are now among the Israeli displaced living in hotels. 

Some of the patients ask how Yael and her family are doing, and there are those who ask about her father, who they know as one of the volunteer drivers who would take them to the hospital. He and Yael’s mother survived the attack on Kibbutz Alumim, a religious kibbutz just a few miles from the Gaza border. Yael grew up there and remembers regularly driving into Gaza as a girl to go to the sea and shop in the local markets with her family. When she was in high school the First Intifada broke out and Gaza was no longer considered safe to travel to for Israelis.

The organization was founded almost 20 years ago by Yuval Roth, an Israeli, whose brother was killed by Hamas in 1993. At a meeting of the Parents Circle Families Forum, which brings bereaved families from both sides of the conflict together, he met a Palestinian woman whose brother was ill. She said he needed a ride from the checkpoint to an Israeli hospital. Without rides, such patients have to rely on taxis, which can be prohibitively expensive – up to about $100 each way depending on the distance. And from that first ride the organization was born. 

She gets pushback sometimes for the work the organization does. People say she’s naïve and have told her, in wake of October 7, “Don’t you understand they want to kill us?”

She says, “But I tell them, this is my mission. This is what I need to do,” she says. “So I’m still fighting to do what I can do and I don’t want to be changed (as to what my values are) because of what Hamas did.”

Dina Kraft

Writer and Journalist

Dina Kraft is a writer and journalist based in Tel Aviv.  She is the Opinion Editor for Haaretz English and co-author of My Friend Anne Frank. She has written from the region for over two decades for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times, reporting on Israeli and Palestinian politics, culture and society.

Dina is drawn to stories featuring unlikely connections, dual narratives and the impact of conflict and crisis on ordinary lives. She hosts the podcast “Groundwork” and previously “The Branch”, which tell the stories of relationships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

Dina is a long-time foreign correspondent who began her overseas career in the Jerusalem bureau of The Associated Press. She was later posted to AP’s Johannesburg bureau where she covered southern Africa. She’s also reported from Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Russia, and Ukraine