It’s reported that since Syria’s civil war erupted two and a half years ago, over 120 Syrians have come to Israeli hospitals for medical treatment. They appear to come mainly to Ziv Hospital in Safed, in the upper Galilee, and to the Western Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, also in upper Galilee on the Mediterranean coast.
The Syrians are described as “very badly hurt, with gunshot wounds and blast injuries, and receiving life-saving treatment.” They somehow make it to the Israeli border, from where the Israeli army transports them to the hospitals. Although predominantly civilians, often women and children, one report cites a Syrian patient who appears to be a “rebel fighter”—meaning he could well belong to a jihadi group that wants Israel destroyed.
Syria as a whole is decidedly hostile to Israel, having been in a state of war with it since Israel was established in 1948. If the situation was reversed—if Israelis were savagely killing each other en masse, which has never happened and never will—there is scant chance Syrian hospitals would accept wounded Israelis, even less that Syrian soldiers would bring them there for treatment.
Nevertheless, Dr. Calin Shapira, deputy head of Ziv Hospital, told Agence France-Presse that no wounded Syrians who come to Ziv are turned away:
It doesn’t matter where they’re from…. It’s important to give medical aid regardless—this is a principle of the medical profession.
Syrian wounded who come to Israel are in desperate need. A Syrian woman told French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières that in her country “there are no medicines, nowhere to go, no hospitals. Medicine has become a rare commodity.” Fifty-seven percent of Syria’s hospitals have been damaged in the fighting—some most likely deliberately targeted by one side or the other—and 36 percent have stopped functioning.
Once they find themselves in Israel, the Syrians not only have to cope with their medical conditions—but with their terror over being where they are.
Masad Barhoum, clinical director at Western Galilee Medical Center, told NBC News:
Most of them arrive unconscious…. When they wake up and find that they are in Israel they are anxious and afraid. We don’t ask them any questions, we just do what we can to make them feel comfortable.
Dr. Zonis Zeev, also at the Western Galilee center, told Britain’s The Independent:
For the Syrians, we are monsters. On this side of the border, there are monster-Jews. You probably saw some of the propaganda—of Jews cutting pieces of Arabs and eating them, all the blood and stuff. So they grew up on this feeling and their anxiety is even greater, especially if they arrive alone. It’s really heartbreaking to see.
And as he also told AP:
Probably at some time they were told about the “animals” on the other side of the border, us, like the Zionists or the Jews…. So they are terrified, and we have to treat the anxiety not less than treating the physical part. Sometimes it is much harder.
When they return to Syria, will these Syrians have a more realistic view of Israel? One would like to think so. But even if they do, they’ll be taking their life in their hands if they say so—or disclose that they were in an Israeli hospital at all.
Agence France-Press reports on one Fatima, a Syrian woman who “ended up in Ziv hospital with her daughter after a blast shattered their legs in their hometown of Daraa….” She was “full of praise for the medical staff.” And yet,
mindful that Syria and Israel are technically still at war following their 1967 and 1973 conflicts, she was reluctant to be identified, asking that pseudonyms be used both for herself and for her daughter.
“Please do not show our faces,” she asked AFP photographers.
AP reports similarly on a “nervous, silent father” who “hovers over his injured daughter”:
He is silent because he cannot speak Hebrew, nervous because his presence in Israel, Syria’s long-time enemy, could place his family in danger if his trip is discovered.
…While he was grateful for high-quality medical care, he was visibly afraid of the potential consequences of his trip, speaking in one-word answers and keeping his eyes lowered. He checked footage filmed by an AP Television News crew to make sure his daughter’s face was obscured.
…Generations of Syrians have grown up under propaganda vilifying the Jewish state.
All of this means that the father’s presence in Israel could mean trouble for his family back home from any number of groups.
Ditto from the report in The Independent:
I’ve touched a few times in this series on the theme of Israel as a light of democratic decency and progress that, nonetheless, has a leper-like status in the Arab and much of the Muslim world, to a large degree in Europe, and elsewhere. The theme is nowhere more sadly evident than in the fears of these Syrians—first, on finding themselves in dreaded Israel; then, on realizing that this “transgression” could get discovered back home.
The Israeli hospitals, of course, keep accepting these patients and treating them regardless. One has to be who one is.