Above: On her graduation
Coming from an ultra-conservative society where women are not expected to work outside the home, Mai Mazarieb’s achievement in becoming a doctor is exceptional. She is a Bedouin Arab, born and raised in the village of Zarzir in the Galilee, the oldest of seven siblings.
Today she is completing a residency in Beilinson Hospital, at the Rabin Medical Center in Petach Tikva, and hopes, eventually, to specialize in surgical oncology. Given her extraordinary determination and ambition to succeed, there is no doubt that she will realize her dreams.
Preconceived notions of Israel’s Bedouin population bring to mind a nomadic people who lived by cultivating crops and tending animals. In fact, there are many well-educated Bedouin, including Mai’s parents, who are both teachers.
“My mother always pushed us to study,” says the 31-year-old doctor who qualified in 2013. “We faced a lot of opposition and hostility from our neighbors, but it only encouraged me more to seek an education.”
t was not an easy prospect from the beginning. Mai applied to medical schools in Israel, but she was upset by the reactions she received.
Mai Mazarieb ... she says her mother always pushed her to study
One interviewing doctor told her she would never be allowed out of her village to study, and tried to put her off.
“I’ll show him,” she thought at the time. “He’s going to hear about me.”
In the end, she studied medicine at the University of Science and Technology, in Irbid, Jordan.
“I could have gone to Europe,” she says in her impeccable English, “but I wanted to be near Israel, in case I needed to come home quickly.”
The idea of a woman going outside the home was anathema to Bedouin society and Mai’s family was ostracized for years.
“It’s easier now, but when I went away to study in 2005, I was considered ‘a loose woman’,” she says with a dimpled smile. “My family found themselves in a battle – but they never gave up.”
Now doing a residency, Mai finds herself treating Jewish and Arab patients on a daily basis. How do the Jews react to her?
“Mostly they don’t know I’m Arab,” she says. “I try to keep my private life separate from my work and be completely professional.”
She feels she has to maintain a certain distance from all her patients.
“I don’t need to enter into the patient’s private life and I don’t think they need to know mine,” she says. “But I always go with a smile, even though I’m slightly reserved.”
She is a practicing Muslim and during Ramadan observes the fast devoutly.
“It is hard, especially if one is working, but I feel I want to thank Allah for giving me so much – my mind, my brain and my physical being,” she says. “Also, so many people do not have enough to eat; it’s good to feel what they feel.”
In the Bedouin village, when she goes home for vacation, she is often asked to see patients, even in the middle of the night.
“I don’t mind,” she says. “The people trust me and I’m happy to help them. My father always taught us to be humble and keep our feet on the ground.”
While she feels that one day she would like to marry and have children, she is not in any hurry.
“I’m very independent, and I see so many women who depend on a husband for money and have to ask for everything. Yes, I am a feminist, not just in my own society but in general, and I know that having an education empowers you and gives meaning to life.”
With her steely determination, it is clear that Mai will reach the top of her profession.
“My parents always encouraged us to leave our fingerprint on the world,” she says, “and I intend to do just that.”