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June 25, 2014 1:05 pm

Israeli Surgeon Treats Palestinians Despite Despair Over Kidnapped Youths

avatar by Dave Bender

Dr David Mishali with young Syrian heart patient

Dr David Mishali with young Syrian heart patient (Photo credit: Liron Almog, Israel Hayom)

In a riveting example of the psychological and emotional toll the immense manhunt for three Israeli teens abducted – presumably by Hamas – is inflicting on Israelis, one of Israel’s top pediatric surgeons says he may have had enough.

“…the situation has really become intolerable,” admits Dr. David Mishali, who heads the International Congenital Heart Center at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv.

And his role operating on, among others, ailing Palestinians, while his son is a schoolmate of one of those abducted, only highlights and exacerbates the tragic complexity of life in the Jewish state.

The kidnapping of Gilad Shaar, 19, Eyal Yifrach, 16, and Nafatali Frankel, 16 from a rural hitchiking post in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Bethlehem – an otherwise relatively quiet part of the West Bank – on June 12th, has torn Israel apart, and running updates on the search have headlined hourly local news reports ever since.

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In a feature which recently aired on Israel’s Channel 10 News, Mishali shared his internal deliberations on an impossibly complex reality, one in which he will operate on the infant child of a young Palestinian couple from Hebron – one of the prime areas security officials suspect the youths are being held captive.

Making the irony even more agonizing is the fact that Mishali’s own son is friends with one of the kidnapped youths, and is exposed to the same dangers, since the two attend the same religious high school.

Every evening before he begins his shift, he first drives over to the Mekor Haim school to briefly visit with his son, close to where the trio were last seen alive.

“Even when we were living in Gush Etzion, I operated on Palestinian children,” Mishali said. It was unclear if Mishali now resides within the Green Line, or in a community within Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

“And sometimes, along the way, they’d hurl rocks at me – and it never moved me, that I’d travel to operate on a Palestinian child; that I’d operate on the son of a ‘Hamasnik’ in Gaza,” he says, passing an IDF checkpoint on his nightly route to the medical center.

In the heartbreaking segment, he meets with the Palestinian couple at the hospital, and describes to them the ramifications of two alternative surgical options for their child, Karim.

Via an interpreter, Mishali gently lays out the odds of survival for the infant – a 10-to-15 percent mortality rate – if the parents opt for the more comprehensive – but riskier procedure.

“The couple are sitting across from a man who fixes hearts, but have no idea what he feels in his own,” the narrator says.

“We’re going out of our minds about the youths,” he tells the reporter, referring to the three students.

“And (the Israeli forces) are searching for them right near (the Palestinian couple’s homes). Maybe even inside their house,” Mishali says with a weary sigh. “…maybe the (youths) will be found in their garden – I don’t know,” he says, uncertainly.

Despite 24/7 searches by 10 Israeli army brigades, and intense intelligence work, their whereabouts are as yet unknown, and no group has proclaimed responsibility for their disappearance.

And, at the same time, “here (at the hospital), we’re really pulling down the moon and the stars for them, and for their children,” Mishali says of the Palestinian patients.

Meanwhile, while the parents sit at their infant’s bedside a day before surgery, reading Koranic verses for emotional support, Mishali sits with the reporter in his office and scans internet news headlines for the latest news about the three Israelis.

“Look – for the last 20 years, I’ve gone in to work every morning on an (emotional) ‘high,’ really a ‘trip,'” he tells the reporter.

“…and this morning?” she asks.

“This morning, I’m depressed. I’m really depressed to have to go in to work,” he replies, quietly.

“I’m fed up with it,” he says. “I’ve had it with being a ‘bleeding heart’ that always aids the needy,” he reveals, using Israeli political slang referring to those who espouse liberal or left-of-center positions.

Hesitating, he continues, “and in some way, it’s… it’s even pretentious,” to be treating Palestinians under the present circumstances.

In a scathing open letter in response to the report, firebrand Israeli Arab MK Dr. Ahmed Tibi (himself a gynecologist), excoriated Mishali for his admissions of uncertainty and despair over the complex situation.

Tibi said, essentially, that if it’s too hot for the “settler” in the operating theater – get out.

“Take a vacation, go back to your settlement that sits precisely on lands belonging to the family from Hebron whose child you deliberate about treating,” Tibi wrote on the Yediot Ahronot news site.

“Immerse yourself in the false feeling of belonging to a righteous collective that usurps, weeps, and then brags about it. And know that every Palestinian would much prefer compromising his health, just as long as you get off his lands,” Tibi wrote.

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