Israeli hospital where Syrian fighters are saved

Letter from Safed


By Shira Rubin, August 16, 2013
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A mother and her seven-year-old daughter look sallow and speak in exhausted whispers as they lie in the orthopaedic ward of the Ziv Medical Centre in Safed, northern Israel.

Last month, a bomb ripped through their home, in a Syrian village, leaving their legs completely mangled. Had they not crossed the border into Israel, those limbs would have likely been amputated.

The mother, requesting that she and her daughter remain anonymous out of fear of retribution on returning home, casts her eyes down as she recalls the surreal experience of arriving in Israel, an official enemy country.

Her biggest worry now is for her husband and eight other children, who remain at home while the war rages all around them.

Here, it’s quiet, but when they go back they will see destruction

“Here it’s a quiet time, but when they go back they will see only destruction,” says Fares, an Arabic-speaking social worker from a nearby Arab village in the Galilee, who also refused to provide his last name, due to the sensitivity of his work.

Fares arranges for the delivery of donations, including toys, clothes, as well as more basic items such as hygienic products; from nearby kibbutzim and villages, where local people are “so happy to help”, he beams.

Some 120 injured Syrians have escaped their war-ravaged villages and towns — often lacking in appropriate medical facilities — to seek treatment in Israeli hospitals.

At Ziv, like numerous other northern Israeli hospitals attending to Syrian patients, doctors have devoted extensive resources to accommodate to their complicated and delicate injuries.

Since “no two war wounds are the same, treatment is not at all standard, taking the form of gradual damage control,” says Dr Alexander Lerner, the director of orthopaedic surgery, who specialises in war injuries.

He’s optimistic about the two young girls in his ward, aged 5 and 15, who are now recovering from surgery, and hopes to add them to his list of “successes”, or former patients who have gone on to walk.

In February, when the hospital received its first patients, doctors treated young Syrian men, assumed to be rebel soldiers injured in battle. Gradually, though, elderly civilians began to trickle into the emergency rooms and, then, in recent months, women and young children suffering severe injuries.

“We’re used to wars, and to treating civilians,” said Dr Amer Hussein, head of Ziv’s emergency department. “But when you see injured children, when you see a boy who’s foreign here, looking for his father, his mother, his home, and he doesn’t understand where he is — it hurts the heart, it’s a completely different feeling,” he said.

Both sides in the Syria war, including al-Qaeda affiliated groups in the opposition, and Hizbollah members fighting together with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces, fiercely oppose Israel. Assad, meanwhile, has accused Israel of siding with the rebels.

Last updated: 11:45am, August 16 2013