Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Israel quietly treats wounded Syrians

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It was recently revealed that Israel has been quietly providing medical assistance to around 100 victims of the Syrian civil war, who are in two hospitals in northern Israel as well as in a field hospital Israel established on the Golan Heights border. As doctors have fled and hospitals have been shelled in Syria, there has been an influx of serious cases to Israel.

The UN reportedly plays a role in transporting the injured across no man's land to gain Israeli medical assistance. In at least one recent case sent to Israel, a patient arrived with a note pinned to him from a Syrian doctor to his Israeli counterparts, therefore it seems that some transfers are deliberate, not accidental.

Israel's assistance was given detailed exposure in a news report that aired on Israel's Channel 10 on August 3.  The report included interviews with Syrian patients being treated in Israel, with many providing harrowing accounts of their ordeal and how they sought help from Israel. The report blurred the faces of the Syrian patients to prevent identification, because as one patient said, "If it gets out that you were in Israel... that's the end for you."

The Times of Israel highlighted the accounts of some of the Syrian patients shown in the television report:

"Several of the patients accused the Assad regime of horrific brutality. The worst media reports, one of them said, were ‘nothing compared to the true awfulness' of what is unfolding across the border.

Among the other patients currently in Israel is a five-year-old girl whose sister was killed by a fragmentation grenade thrown by Assad forces, and whose mother carried her in her arms to the Israeli border, seeking treatment for her from injuries sustained in the same attack, the report said.

Another patient is a three-year-old girl most of whose family was killed in a shelling attack that badly injured her. She is being looked after by the aunt of another patient, and is not aware that she is in Israel.

One of the patients in the report said word had spread in Syria that Israel's hospitals are excellent. Injured victims of the civil war increasingly implored those who wished to help them to take them to Israel rather than other neighboring countries with which Syria is not at war, such as Jordan."

The New York Times also reported on Israel's humanitarian assistance to injured Syrians on August 5, and included comments made by Dr. Masad Barhoum, the Director General of the Western Galilee Hospital, whose team has been taking care of wounded Syrians:

"With more than 100,000 people estimated to have died in the Syrian civil war, Dr. Barhoum, an Arab Christian citizen of Israel, acknowledged that the Israeli medical assistance was ‘a drop in the ocean.' But he said he was proud of the level of treatment his teams could provide and proud to be a citizen of a country that allowed him to treat every person equally. He said the cost of the treatment so far had amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars and would be paid for by the Israeli government."

Israel has a policy of non-intervention in the Syrian civil war, other than declaring that for purposes of self-defence, it may strike at stocks of advanced weapons that seem likely to be transferred to Hezbollah. However, Israel's willingness to provide low profile medical assistance to injured Syrians is an example of compassion and neighbourliness in a region that often seems to lack significant displays of either - especially as the brutal and bloody conflict on Israel's northern border continues to fester.

Sharyn Mittelman


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