Nurit Greenger, President, US-AZ Cultural Foundation, and Eti El-Kiss, CEO, Double Trouble Production, teamed up with a commitment to accompany Azerbaijani wounded soldier, Arif Hajiyev, to a visit in Israel, in order to meet and thank his cornea donor’s family and reconnect with doctor Yishay Falik, who successfully operated on Arif’s damaged eye, transplanting a cornea donated by a family in Israel, which was the factor to Arif’s eyesight recovery.
We are now ready to declare that first part of the mission has been accomplished.
How it all began
In June 2022 I, Nurit Greenger, a journalist, visited Azerbaijan and interviewed for an article Arif Hajiyev, a soldier who was wounded during the 44-days 2nd Karabakh Victory War Azerbaijan and Armenia fought.
During the interview Arif expressed his wish to meet the donors of the cornea he received – a family in Israel – to thank them, in person, for their humanitarianism.
My interview was concluded by promising Arif to compassionately meet his wish.
Upon my return from Azerbaijan to my home in the United States, I embarked on a drive to arrange for Arif to travel to Israel and have his wish come true.
For this effort Mrs. El-Kiss, a film producer, joined me with enthusiasm.
Wonderful Human Support
Many others have also joined us to make Arif’s visit to Israel possible and to them we owe our mighty gratitude:
Doctor Yishay Falick, an ophthalmic surgeon, expert in the field of corneal transplantation and construction of the ocular surface with stem cells, who operated on Arif’s eye; His excellency Mr. George Deek, Israel ambassador to Azerbaijan; The State Committee for Diaspora Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan; Chabad SoLa community in Los Angeles, California; the many people who wanted to be part on this humanitarian spirit project and made a financial contribution to it; our excellent cinematographer, Eyal Ashkenazi, who worked tirelessly to show this entire 4-days visit in Israel through the best lens possible and of course Hafiz Rahimov, Arif’s interpreter in Israel, who devoted his work time to this project.
Exceptionalism in Azerbaijan, a Majority Muslim Country
The renewal of the Jewish people’s 3rd commonwealth has been the establishment of the state of Israel. Since that day, on May 14, 1948, the state has been in vicious conflict with the Arab world, mostly members of the Islam faith.
But there are exceptions and that exception is the republic of Azerbaijan, a majority Muslim country, that declared sovereignty on September 23, 1989, and independence on August 30, 1991.
Nowadays, there is focused attention paid to Israel’s diplomatic relations with Arab & Muslim-majority countries. Due to the Abraham Accords, Israel has formed relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, Kosovo, while pursuing others.
However, and despite 30 years of close ties between Muslim majority Azerbaijan and the Jewish state, Israel, Azerbaijan has not garnered the media coverage it well deserves.
The mere fact that a wounded Azerbaijani Muslim soldier received a cornea from a Jewish person in Israel opened the door to showcase the relations between the two countries. This along with the humanitarian and Judaism spirit that drives Israeli-Jews to help anyone, anywhere, anytime.
The project accompanying Arif to Israel was a sensible vehicle to show the world Israel’s humanitarian spirit, with an emphasis on the relations between ordinary people and the two countries.
We traveled on Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) from Heydar Aliyev International Airport, Baku, and landed in Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Our 4-day program gave Arif the opportunity to meet an Israeli wounded soldier. Arif’s wish to drive along the Mediterranean shores was accomplished by us driving along the Mediterranean, ending up with a visit to the city of Acre, a mixed Israeli-Jew and Muslim Israeli-Arab population city.
Arif took a tour of historic Jerusalem, the capital of Israel that ended with him praying at Al Aksa Mosque.
At Misgav Ladach Hospital, in Jerusalem, doctor Falick examined Arif’s eye on which he operated. Arif also met with Mr. Moshe Fadlon, the Mayor of the City of Herzliya, where Artif’s cornea donor’s family resides.
At the Mayor’s office, Arif received the key to the city of Herzliya. This is an honorary decoration that simulates the city key given by the mayor and which was given only to the President of Israel.
And of course, Arif met with his cornea donor’s family in the most dramatic and emotional meeting.
In his visit to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, Arif briefly met several ministers in the halls of the building.
Azerbaijan Has Turned Personal for Me
During the years in which I visited Azerbaijan, a small country located in the South Caucasus, Southwestern Asia, which very few know about, the country has turned personal for me. The Azerbaijani people’s graciousness has been a great factor for me to feel at home there.
As a supporter of the state of Israel, despite Azerbaijan’s geopolitical vulnerability, situated between Iran, Russian and Armenia, its friendly bilateral relations with Israel for the past 30 years is a factor for me to make the effort to help promote Azerbaijan’s status on the world stage.
As a Jewess, the safe Haven Jews have found in Azerbaijan, going back hundreds of years, has been one other factor to take on this project and many others, on other subjects, to acquaint the world with Azerbaijan.
For that reason, our visit to Azerbaijan, touring the land’s sites and meeting with local officials, as well as ordinary people, will be made into a documentary, to promote the country.
Our post-production of Arif’s 4-day visit in Israel will begin soonest. We hope the docufilm will be ready for screening just in time for the opening of the Republic of Azerbaijan embassy in Israel.
Double Trouble Production
Many thanks to everyone who helped to make this all come together, and special thanks to Eti El-Kiss, and Double Trouble Production for a superb team effort.