A young Palestinian from Gaza who was treated for cancer in Israel has been helping to relieve the distress of Israeli children in hospitals through performing for them as a medical clown.
Abdullah Abu Shaaban, a 23 year-old from Deir al-Balah near Gaza City, speaks to the children in fluent Hebrew, wearing a traditional clown’s red nose, funny hat and clothes, bringing balloon animals for them to play with.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post at the beginning of March, Abu Shaman said he loves his work.
“It allows me to enter a world where your religion, language or race doesn’t matter. What is important is that we are all human,” he said.
In 2007, Abu Shaman suddenly could not breathe properly. Tests at his local al Shifa hospital determined he had a form of cancer which attacks nerve tissues. The medical care he needed was not available in Gaza and Abu Shaaban received permission to come to Israel for treatment at the Assaf HaRofeh Medical Center in Tel Aviv.
In Israel, doctors discovered that Abu Shaaban had a rare cancer called Ewing Sarcoma, which would require surgery to remove a tumor as well as a bone marrow transplant. The follow-up regimen was long and difficult.
“Every 23 days, I received a treatment of chemotherapy. I would spend two weeks in the hospital and one week in Gaza. It was the most painful experience in my life,” Abu Shaaban told the Post.
However, through this ordeal, Abu Shaaban discovered the art of medical clowning and the joy it can bring to sick children. When a medical clown came onto Abu Shaaban’s Israeli hospital ward one day, the event greatly impacted his life.
“I didn’t know that there were such people as clowns and thought that a crazy person had come into my room,” Abu Shaaban said in the Post interview.
Abu Shaaban recalls how he felt after that clown’s visit.
“I felt so great at the time. The clown had pulled me out of my depression and brought joy into my life. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a clown.”
In strong pursuit of this new passion, and realizing there was no training for medical clowning in Gaza, Abu Shaaban contacted Sasha Kapustina, an Israeli-American film maker, through facebook last year. Kapustina is filming a documentary about medical clowning in Israel called I Clown You and was interested in meeting with him.
With Kapustina’s help, Abu Shaaban later received a permit to come to Israel to train as a medical clown at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital as well as be filmed for the documentary.
Since then, Abu Shaaban has volunteered at Hadassah and the Sheba Medical center near Tel Aviv, in addition to the Al Rantisi children’s hospital in Gaza.
On March 22, in a post on the great impact of Abu Shaaban’s medical clowning in Israel, the official I Clown You documentary Facebook page uploaded a post about his reaching out to Kapustina through a Facebook message exactly one year earlier.
The post reflects the assumption that many people will misunderstand and perhaps even fear a Gazan who works as a medical clown and goes on to say that those who have helped him will face criticism: “This is insane,” “how do you know he is not a terrorist?” and “you’re not going to be able to do this.”
Nevertheless, the post concludes: “All these words weigh on you but when you know something is right words won’t stop you.”
“A joyful heart is good medicine.”