For the past two and half years Yonat Daskal. Now 23 years old, has been working as paramedic at Magen David Adom, what is equal to the Red Cross in Israel, at the national headquarters, in Kiryat Ono, Israel.
I met Yonat when she arrived in Los Angeles to partake in the Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) gala in November 2014.
It took time to get her to hold an interview with me as Yonat is a busy bee, working as a paramedic as well as a first year student in the medical sciences faculty at Ariel University, in Ariel city. Her ambition is to become a surgeon. “If, after studying for three years for my BA, I graduate with high grades, I will be accepted to four more years of medical school,” she announces her ultimate goal.
“But Ariel University does not have medical school,” I noted, questioning her plan to graduate as a doctor from this university.
Yonat let me into a secret: “The philanthropist Sheldon Adelson is already in negotiations to build a medical school in Ariel University.” She hopes that by the time she receives her BA degree, this medical school will be available to her.
“Why did they choose you to be an honored guest at the FIDF gala?” I asked.
YD: “Because I was the only female soldier to have entered, on foot, with the special Nachal Brigade into northern Gaza during Protective Edge-Solid Rock War this past summer. I was on vacation abroad when the war broke out. I received the call to come back and serve.”
Without hesitation, Yonat was on the first available flight back home.
“In one tough battle with Hamas, there were ten wounded Israeli soldiers whom I treated. It was tough, very tough,” she said. After the rockets were fired toward them, one of the other two medics working with her realized that the wounded soldiers he would have to treat were his friends. “He went into shock,” she said, as she went over the events. “There was a crazy very loud noise, and deafening shooting everywhere. I grabbed his shirt, while we were going toward the wounded, and told him, ‘I know that these are your friends and it is going to be difficult but we are going to be like a robot, and you have to compose yourself; we may not save all of them but we will save as many as possible; perhaps we will lose one but we will save five.’ He got out of his shock frame of mind and it was awesome how the three of us medics, worked so well together.”
The story she continues to tell is one that only a person who was there can tell. “It was midnight and very dark and we were not allowed to use any light, not even a flash light. The soldiers brought the wounded to me and in the dark I was patting them and feeling their body to diagnose from where they were bleeding and where their wound was. I touched, I felt to know if they are conscious, from where they were bleeding. I treated one, and he was evacuated to be sent to the nearest hospital; I then changed gloves and went onto treat the next body, to feel him and treat him as much as I could and the chain continued and repeated itself and it felt as if it was never going to end. The army introduced dry plasma, in powder form, to which one mixes special water and that helped a lot.”
She gave the plasma treatment to one of the wounded after he lost consciousness and he survived, she reminisces and says again “this was great.”
NG: “What happened there exactly?” I was curious to hear firsthand from the warrior medic.
YD: “Hamas fired three rockets which landed a few meters away from our soldiers. The commanding officer was killed and ten soldiers got hit and I was there to treat them all.”
Half an hour into her treating the soldiers, “my angel arrived,” she smiles. “There was one soldier wounded in his chest and I prayed for God to be with him. All of a sudden the Deputy Battalion Commander came over to me and said, ‘a heart and chest surgeon is arriving with a special vehicle to evacuate all the soldiers at once. God was really with them, it was great. It was one and a half weeks, 24 hours non-stop in the battlefield and 24 hours outside Gaza. The first shower I took, after a week and a half in the battlefield, was at Barzilai Hospital. If my girlfriends saw how I looked they would have understood why 400 soldiers surrounding me are no threat to my modesty. Nothing happened but so much did happen.”
Yonat now belongs to the IDF military reserve units, conscripted to IDF combat unit. For that she enlisted and committed to serve for three and a half years in a combat unit instead of the standard two year service, the time women serve in the IDF.
NG: “What have you gained from the service?” I asked.
Yonat smiles as she uses the word ‘great’ often.
YD: “First professionally; I learned and understood that I have the medical profession virus, that medicine is my professional future. As an Israeli citizen who was raised in a Zionist, religious home, in Petach Tikvah, Israel, one of the first Jewish settlements in Israel, founded in the late 1800s, I wanted to enlist as a fighter. I knew I will be able to breathe the land, to feel it. And I did. I connected to the land, to my people, got closer to the population at large and got to know the people. I grew up, and I learned what is more important, and what is less important in life. I am religious, and none of my friends, all of whom are religious, enlisted for military service, and that put pressure on me. They told me, ‘the military corrupts you, it is indecent,’ they claimed. But I experienced the opposite. Serving was the smartest choice I have made in my life thus far. Though it was rather difficult to observe my religious practices, the soldiers in my unit understood my needs in this area and helped to make my life so much easier.”
Yonat is a real trooper. In a way I was jealous of her; I wished I could have had her field experience when I served in the IDF several decades ago.
Yonat is reluctant to go into details about the war but she told me she witnessed weapons hidden in an UNRWA school. “And that is not great,” she revealed her opinion.
“The IDF is amazing,” she says, getting excited. “The Israeli military values life. It is an amazing defense force, fighting for the peace in the land and to protect the life of every citizen. The Arab approach is wrong,” she refers to the murder of four rabbis at Har Nof synagogue while they were praying. “The Arabs see a synagogue, a praying place, as a military operational room; it is a crime and all they want is war and more war.”
Yonat goes back to talking about the medical profession: “The standard of medicine in Israel attests to the value of the life of the citizens of Israel,” she sums up why she wants to contribute to the profession as a future doctor. “The IDF is the most humane military the world over. I assisted the Red Crescent to treat a pregnant Arab-Palestinian woman and performed the delivery in Ovdah checkpoint. I witnessed how all the citizens of Israel are treated with no connection to their religion. The IDF is the military that defends Israel not the military that defends the Jews.”
What is there to say, when you interview a brave warrior, a young woman who decided to give three and a half years of her life to serve her country and she will continue doing so when she becomes a surgeon.
How about a medal of honor for Yonat Daskal, Mr. Prime Minister of Israel, whoever you will be in March 2015?!