Meet Dr. Reem Younis: Israel’s First Arab Woman Surgeon

8 December 2017
Dr. Reem and Dr. Khalil Younis
Dr. Reem and Dr. Khalil Younis

As a mother of three and a full-time oral surgeon, you wouldn’t think Dr. Reem Younis would find the time for activism. Nonetheless, she is active in Shatil’s Arab-Jewish Citizens’ Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee and works to convince the city council to prioritize health in Upper Nazareth.

“There is a lack of awareness about health in Israeli society and especially in the Arab sector,” says Younis, “I walk into my children’s school and see ads for treats. In every social gathering, it’s acceptable for people to smoke.”

It was this thinking that led Younis to participate in a Shatil health activist training. She went on to join its health forum, a Jewish-Arab group that has seen huge successes in bridging health gaps between the Galilean periphery and the rest of the country.

“The training broadened my horizons,” says Younis, “For instance, everyone is talking about rehabilitation now, which hadn’t been on anyone’s agenda before the forum began pushing for rehabilitation centers in the north. On December 7, the cornerstone for a new much needed rehabilitation center will be laid at Poriyah Hospital. We are seeing the fruits of our labor.”
Younis believes health can also be a successful tool in promoting shared society.

Younis is a Muslim who celebrates Christmas, like many in Nazareth. She says, “The goal of religion is to make people closer. That’s what I believe. Everything else is a human invention.” During the holiday of Sukkot, she and her husband built a sukkah for thousands of Arabs and Jews to enjoy together.

“It’s not a coincidence that doctors did this,” says Lev Aran, a Shatil health coordinator. Younis’ husband, like Reem, is also in the field of medicine, “They are a bridge. Medicine is the most meritocratic profession in Israel for Arabs and hospitals are one of Israel’s only truly integrated spaces.”

Younis grew up in the home of the village doctor – her father was Kfar Ara’s first physician and a community leader. He had a huge influence on his children. Three of her siblings are also physicians.

“My father was a person you couldn’t help loving,” says Younis. “He knew how to connect to children, to men, to women, to older people. His office was at home and his office hours were 24 hours a day.”

Today there are many Arab women surgeons in Israel, but at the time, Younis’ accomplishment was a great source of pride for her family.

Younis is hopeful that she can promote shared society through her profession, “Sickness doesn’t choose you because you’re Jewish or Arab – it affects us all. In the hospital, we put on the white coat, walk in the door and feel we are all the same. We don’t label each other… If it’s possible in the hospital, it’s possible outside as well.”

Readers should note that the Reem Younis profiled in this story is different from our board member by the same name.