Banner by Ellen Cadden

Finding Humanity in an Israeli War Hospital

by Jordan Newman

In the Golan Heights, atop Mount Bental in Israel, the sky is endless and the land is picturesque.  Looking out from the old Israeli bunkers, now abandoned and empty, the shadows of winter clouds dance over the land — a land that looks and feels entirely uniform. However, if you listen closely, you can hear where the borders begin. From this view you can see the Kunetra Valley and the Druze villages sitting quaintly in the crests of the mountains of the Upper Galilee, but you can also hear the sounds of the civil war. Amidst the natural beauty of the Golan plateau, the silence is broken by the unforgiving echoes of bombs and other weapons: the daily disasters of the Syrian Civil War.

I have overlooked these mountains from Israel into Syria and have listened to their sounds — they are impossible to ignore, and the unfolding trauma just beyond the Israeli border cannot go unnoticed. However, amidst the chaos in the Middle East, amazing things are happening in Israel’s health care system, specifically in their trauma care.

Western Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, Israel has become a sanctuary for injured Syrians. Israeli Defense Force troops located at the border near Syria bring wounded Syrians to this hospital for treatment, often placing their own lives on the line to cross the border and enter a country with which they have poor relations. Whether the wounded individuals they pick up are civilians, children, adults or war fighters, they are brought to hospitals like the Western Galilee Medical Center and are treated entirely equally.

A British journalist, Inna Lazareva, visited this hospital where over a hundred Syrians have been treated. While there, Lazareva met a three-year-old Syrian who was brought to the hospital with life-threatening injuries after entering a local supermarket with her brothers and falling victim to what she described as a “big blast.” Children in this war-torn country who are

severely injured often find themselves waking up in Israeli hospitals with similar stories. Syrian children and adults are usually terrified when they wake up in Israel since hostilities between Israel and Syria are intense and Syrians are usually raised to believe that Israel is a “big monster across the border.” During their time in the hospital, not only do they make miraculous recoveries, but incredible bonds between patients and hospital staff are formed as well. Plenty of the doctors and hospital staff speak Arabic, so they can communicate with the children and adults easily, allowing them to feel comfortable and safe. Educational volunteers often spend countless hours at the hospital where they bring books and music to these children, speaking to them in Arabic and helping them to feel at ease while they recover. These interactions dispel the illusion that Israel is the “big monster across the border,” and many Syrians treated in hospitals like Western Galilee are grateful for the support and care.

Western Galilee is just one example of a medical center that provides non-discriminatory care. Israeli facilities also treat individuals from Gaza as well as Israeli victims of missile strikes from Gaza. Terrorist attacks within Israel’s borders are not uncommon either, and often Israeli civilians and soldiers are killed or injured. The terrorist behind the attack is often injured as well. All injured individuals are brought to hospitals where they are treated equally, including injured terrorists. It is undoubtedly challenging at times for healthcare professionals to see soldiers, civilians, children, friends and family members that have been severely injured by war and terror; however, these professionals take it upon themselves to also treat those individuals who caused the death and injury of many of their own. Despite all challenges, Dr. Emiel Chai says that “to be a humanitarian is to do your best medicine. It doesn’t matter who you are.” Politicians and politically-inclined individuals might argue that this is a waste of medical resources that should be used for Israelis and that Israeli Defense Force soldiers are often at risk when they transport victims into and out of Syria. Many, however, would agree with Dr. Emiel Chai who says that “we are physicians, not politicians,” and that in the present moment, when an injured individual is brought into the hospital, that injured individual is not a Syrian or an Israeli, not an Arab or a Jew, just a human in need of care. In America, similar scenarios have unfolded. The victims of the Boston marathon attack, as well as the suspected terrorist were equally treated in 2013, despite “second thoughts and anxiety.”

The hostility in the Middle East has led to unparalleled bloodshed. Political tensions exist almost everywhere, except in Israeli hospitals where all patients, whether terrorists or innocent victims, are treated equally. Many people are skeptical about peace being a part of the Middle East’s future, but the compassion of doctors in Israeli hospitals and staff may one day triumph over antipathy as they are currently a flicker of light in a gloomy situation. Amidst the beautiful landscapes in the Middle East there is chaos, but there are also many compassionate hands.