By Moshe Pitchon brought to print by Nurit Greenger | August 27, 2018
In June 2013, a few months after the first badly wounded Syrians came to the Israeli border seeking help, attached to one Syrian patient’s clothes was a handwritten note, addressed to Israeli physicians. The letter explained the patient’s prior medical care and requested lifesaving treatment.
“This marked a turning point,” said Dr. Oscar Embon, then the director of Ziv Medical Center, in the city Zefad, in northern Israel. Theoretically, Syria and Israel are at war, enemy countries with no diplomatic relations whatsoever. This was indeed a remarkable feat. “The note showed me that they’re aware that we’re treating the injured and that it’s okay to refer [to Israeli doctors] patients who need enhanced treatment,” said Dr. Embon.
The director of Israel’s northernmost hospital was stating the fact that doctors are part of an international moral community, not only a citizen of one country or another. Both the Syrian and Israeli doctor were making it clear, through their deeds, that there are times when high moral obligations transcend all other considerations, whatever they are.
The resolve of Israeli doctors to provide medical attention to the casualties of the Syrian civil war was an utterly humanitarian decision. Dr. Salman Zarka – a 25 year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) – the successor to Dr. Embon who is now at the helm of Israel’s northernmost hospital said: “If you ask me whether we are treating Al-Nusra fighters, I can tell you honestly – I don’t know. We don’t ask them which group they belong to, and if we ask how they got injured, it is to differentiate between a blast injury and a penetrating one. We don’t care who our patients are – we just try to save their lives.”
This idea of providing medical help to whoever is in need of it, independently of ideology, religious or political consideration, has been repeatedly put into practice thousands of times by Israeli doctors running to any place around the world where medical aid is needed.
Whether it is because of natural or human-made disasters, Israeli doctors are always among the first to arrive at the site of a catastrophe. Nepal, Mexico, Rwanda, Nairobi, Turkey, Kosovo, Haiti, … 140 countries around the world have over the years benefited not only from Israel’s advanced medical and disaster relief expertise but also from encountering a professional community dedicated to nothing other than the interest of the people they came to help.
As the saying goes, ‘charity begins at home,’ of course. Although after the 1993 Oslo Accord, Israel transferred health services to the Palestinian Authority (PA), advanced postgraduate training of Arab-Palestinian doctors continues in Israelis hospitals.
Additionally, between 2013 and 2015, for instance, 61,000 residents of the disputed PA controlled area and Gaza were admitted to Israeli hospitals for treatments.
Every Tuesday, children from Gaza and the disputed PA controlled area arrive in vans to Wolfson Medical Center, in Holon, South of Tel-Aviv, for check-ups and surgeries. In fact, at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, in Ramat Gan, 50% of the patients at the pediatric oncology department come from Gaza and the disputed PA controlled area territories.
Given the years of hostilities with Hamas, an Islamic terror group ruling the Gaza strip and a sworn to Israel’s destruction, the fact that Israel grants any entry permits to residents of Gaza is somewhat no less remarkable than its medical assistance to the Syrians.
Commenting on the situation in which Israeli doctors find themselves at times, Dr. Yoram Neumann, at Tel Hashomer said: “On the one hand, I am a doctor who rejoices in helping children – irrespective of their backgrounds. I want to do the best for everyone. I would dearly love a link with my Arab colleagues. I have trained a number and feel proud to have done so.”
“On the other hand, I feel angry at the manner in which the world media projects us – we are portrayed as ‘child killers,’ while here and in hospitals all over the country we are saving Arab-Palestinian lives.”
“Is it not time that the world recognized the humanitarian work carried out here, in spite of the continued incitement, stabbings, vehicle ramming and rockets activated against us?”
Israeli doctors are neither heroes nor saints. Professionally they are among the best and indeed, some of the best representatives of the moral community that is the medical profession. In exercising their profession the way they do, Israeli doctors are a power for moral good.
Those of us who are not doctors, besides trying to emulate their effacement of self-interest, by toning down our “what-is-in-for-me” pre-condition for helping somebody, we should at least, let Israeli doctors know that we support their humanitarian work and that we are proud of them.
A petition to nominate Israeli doctors for the Nobel Peace Prize is available for people to sign it HERE.
Moreover, the largest gathering of support and to express awareness about Israeli doctors’ remarkable humanitarian work around the world will take place on December 9, 2018, at the iconic Fontainebleau hotel, in Miami Beach, Florida. Star studded list of attendees, comprising an impressive who-is who-list, from the corporate and civic world, governments, academia, the arts and some of the most distinguished doctors in America will rally in support of what Israeli doctors are doing and achieving.
Moshe Pitchon is a Jewish thinker. The President of Friends Ziv Medical Center and chair of the Life and Hope Project
Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra, known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham after July 2016, and also described as al-Qaeda in Syria or al-Qaeda in the Levant, was a Salafist jihadist organization fighting against Syrian government forces in the Syrian Civil War. Its aim was to establish an Islamic state in the country.