Wounded Syrians Treated in Israel ‘Overwhelmed With Gratitude,’ Says IDF Medical Corps Deputy Surgeon General (INTERVIEW)
“At first, they were afraid to be treated by Israelis, whom they were taught their whole lives are their worst enemies,” the deputy surgeon general of the IDF Medical Corps told The Algemeiner this week. “But once they began to accept our medical help, they became overwhelmed with gratitude and their entire attitude towards us changed.”
Col. Dr. Tarif Bader was referring to the many wounded Syrians who have crossed the border into Israel from their war-torn country to receive top-tier care, both at the IDF field hospital set up along the border and at official medical centers in the north of the country.
Since 2013, Bader said, the IDF has been administering the same advanced care to Syrians injured in the fighting between President Assad’s forces (backed by Russia and Iran) and rebel groups as it does to Israeli civilians and soldiers. This, emphasized Bader, is “without selection or prying into their ethnic background or side in the conflict” that has led to the death of an estimated 200,000 combatants and civilians over the past five years.
“But this is in keeping with what we teach our teams in the military medical academy: that their job is to treat all injured people, regardless of who they are, and the only thing they have to do in primary triage is to treat those with the most serious injuries first, including if they are terrorists,” he said.
Where the Syrians are concerned, however, “Of course, we behave with caution. We don’t enter Syria or risk minefields in order to treat them; they come to us,” he said.
Asked whether this kind of indiscriminate care means that Israel could be treating wounded ISIS or other terrorists, Bader, a Druze who has served for more than two decades in the Israeli military, said that it was certainly possible. “But ISIS tends not to be fighting in the areas closest to Israel. Most of the people we treat are not from Damascus or Aleppo, the cities where the bulk of the combat is taking place, but rather from villages near the border.”
Still, he said, even those who live near the border can be coming from a few miles away. He recounted the story of a mother who carried her five-year-old child – with a partially amputated limb – by herself, on foot, for two miles to reach the field hospital.
Because the minutes following an injury are crucial, Bader explained, one of the challenges the Israeli medical personnel face is the amount of time that passes before a wounded Syrian is able to get help.
“Sometimes they come hours or even a full day after being wounded,” he said. “This is one of the challenges of treating them. There is a danger of infection. Indeed, aside from war wounds, many Syrians are afflicted with infectious diseases caused by their injuries. This sometimes forces us to hospitalize them for periods of time in Israel.”
Bader claimed that it is by word of mouth that more and more Syrians have begun to seek Israeli assistance. “Even those who were fearful and suspicious of Israelis initially took the risk of taking our medical help because it was either that or dying a certain death. So, rather than choosing to die on Syrian soil, they opted to try to be rescued by Israeli doctors. But every single one of them returns to Syria feeling extremely grateful and telling us so,” he said.
Bader, who is completing a lecture tour in America sponsored by the US-based NGO, “Our Soldiers speak” (where he has also been talking about heading the IDF’s aid mission to Nepal in 2015 and participation in its aid mission to Haiti in 2010), told The Algemeiner that “it is very important for the world to know that we do not have special teams for the Syrians. The same staff, aircraft, ambulances and medical supplies that we use for our own soldiers and civilians are provided for the Syrians. This is the IDF’s approach to any person in need of care.”
The same goes for the Israeli hospitals, he said. “There are no special wards for the Syrians. They lie side-by-side with Israeli patients. And they are so relieved to be healing that they have mixed feelings about going back home. They are grateful for being saved and fearful about returning to the war zone. But at the same time, they miss their families and want to go home.”
One challenge Bader said his personnel has had to overcome is the language and cultural barriers between the Israeli medical professionals and the Syrians they treat. Bader himself is fluent in Arabic – though his Israeli-Druze dialect is slightly different from that of the Syrians — and always makes sure that any team treating Syrians has at least one Arabic-speaker.
“The same goes for the hospitals,” he said. “But that’s a bit easier, because nearly a third of medical personnel in northern Israel are Arabs or Arabic-speakers.”
Asked whether he has come across Syrian Druze while treating the war-wounded, he pleaded ignorance. “I don’t know, because I don’t ask patients if they’re Muslim, Christian or Druze. I’m there to help them, regardless of who they are.”
Again, Bader emphasized, however, “Whoever they are, they are always grateful and usually surprised to discover what we Israelis are really like. One guy I talked to before he went back to Syria said he was so ashamed that he used to think of Israelis as the enemy. He said that when he saw the hospitality and professionalism with which he was greeted, he changed his whole outlook. So much so that he actually said, ‘If I had the possibility to raise the Israeli flag on top of my house, I would do it.’”