The Widow of An Israeli Soldier Gives His Heart—and the Gift of Life—to An Arab, Hanna Khader

updated 12/11/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/11/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

On Nov. 19, in the Israeli village of Yodfat, Zeev Traum was buried with full military honors. Slain by Arab guerrillas near Gaza, Traum, a 40-year-old army reservist, became the 42nd Israeli soldier killed since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising—the Intifadeh—two years ago. Yet even as Traum's family mourned his death, in Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, Hanna Khader, 54, an Arab hotel manager in East Jerusalem, was able to whisper to his wife, Mary, "I am so happy to be alive." Khader had just become the ninth person in Israel to undergo a coronary transplant, and in his chest beat the heart of Zeev Traum.

The transplant immediately drew condemnation from Israeli and Palestinian extremists. "The Arabs literally cut out our hearts in acts of war, and we give them ours in acts of peace," said an outraged patient at Hadassah. The Sicarites, a Jewish underground group, claimed responsibility for a makeshift bomb found outside the home of the head of the transplant team. Meantime, the Khader family feared Palestinian radicals or Islamic fundamentalists might target them for accepting an Israeli's heart.

Traum's widow does not regret her decision. "Had I known that my husband's heart would be planted into the body of an Arab, I would have donated it just the same," said Brenda, 40, a nurse, who had agreed with Traum that they would be organ donors. But Jerusalem contractor Joel Yisrael condemned her act of charity. His brother Yechiel, 46, died last December after the family of a young Palestinian killed by an Israeli soldier refused to donate their son's heart. "Where were all the Arabs when we looked for a heart?" demanded Joel. "They refused for political reasons."

Mary Khader voiced the hope that the transplant would help heal such divisions. "For us this is an occasion of joy while for them it is a tragedy," she said. "I pray that God will compensate them for their generous deed."

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