SAFED (Galilee) – We present the report by Telepace Holy Land TV on the Syrian conflict victims treated in Israeli hospitals in Galilee. Interviews and photos by Federica Foiadelli.
It has been three years now since the first demonstrations began in Syria in March 2011 destined to result in the tragic civil war that continues to plague the country.
While most of the world remains silent or merely attempts to find political solutions to the conflict, some neighboring countries are making efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. Most of the aid is offered by the surrounding Arab countries. Less dramatic but more unexpected is the way in which the State of Israel, formally an enemy of Syria for decades, is instead engaging humanitarianly in the conflict.
Since February of 2013 hundreds of wounded Syrians have been welcomed into Israel to receive medical treatment in various hospitals in Galilee, the northern part of the country. One of the most active from this point of view is the hospital in Safed that, since last year, has admitted a total of 250 Syrians. It is important to underline that these people in need of care have begun to appear in Israel and have permission to access it only temporarily since last year, in particular since February 17, despite the fact that the war has now been going on for three years.
The director of the Safed hospital, Dr. Oscar Embon, explained to us how it is possible that the wounded Syrians reached this clinic: “The Syrians, wounded in the civil war, arrive at the Israeli border. Israeli soldiers on duty, when they see them, transfer them to a medical facility managed directly by them in the border area. After an initial inspection, those with less severe problems are directly treated on site and then returned to Syria. Those in more serious conditions are sent to our hospital by military ambulance. The soldiers call and alert us: ‘between 30-40 minutes you will receive a certain number of patients.’ So we prepare to accommodate the injured in the trauma unit. 15 % are children under 18 years of age. The ratio between men and women is 9 to 1, so only 10% are women. The age of patients varies from 0 to 70 years. A peculiar thing is that we have received four pregnant women who gave birth at this hospital.”
About their physical condition by the time they reach the hospital, the head of the department of plastic surgery, Dr. Shukri Kassis, says that “almost all need plastic surgery procedures in for damage to the skin and muscles. There are also serious cases, many have had to undergo amputation of legs or hands. Now there is a patient who had a whole leg amputated and part of pelvis; it is a very difficult case. We do what we can to save their lives.”
The hospital in Safed, however, not only provides the highest quality medical care, but also a psychological and material assistance to the Syrian patients, many of whom suffer not only for the serious injuries found on their bodies, but also post-trauma symptoms related to war and the atrocities they have witnessed. Therefore, the hospital staff has a number of social workers in charge of establishing a much closer and almost familiar link with these people. Fares Issa, the social worker in charge of relations with patients Syrians, said: “I meet them immediately at the trauma unit to give them information in Arabic about what they are saying and give the doctors’ health point of view. If they have mothers, fathers, or, in general, relatives outside the hospital, I try to contact them. I talk with them and provide everything they need: shoes, pajamas, toothpaste, and shampoo. I also give them clothes for when they return home and establish a sincere relationship with them to understand if they suffer symptoms of post-trauma, if they are concerned, if they have special needs, if they want more precise information about where they are and the care that will be their care. If they suffer amputations, I collect money from various communities to buy prosthesis and ensure that they can return home able to walk.”
Thanks to Fares it was also possible to use as a small hospital room as a warehouse for all the goods that can aid the patients; goods bought with donations given by various Christian communities, and Muslim and Jewish residents in Israel: clothes for men, women and children, linen, bags, toothbrushes, toothpaste, crutches … everything they may need while in the hospital and during their return. The hospital also has a number of clown volunteers, like Johnny Khbeis: “I’m here for four months and work especially with wounded Syrian children. War is terrible, this is the first time in my life when I see a war up close.”
But what happens when they are discharged from the hospital? On average, they remain there for about three weeks but it depends on the extent of their injuries, sometimes one can remain for several months. Once a hospital decides to dismiss them, it calls the military forces that patrol the border with Syria, who will assist the person crossing the border, facilitating a return to Syria. Sometimes there may be an intermediate stage of stay at the military hospital in the Golan.
However, it is legitimate to ask what reactions are aroused in the decision to bring them back into Syria, “of the 250 patients, no one has ever asked to stay. Everyone asks me ‘when can we go home?’ They know that the situation is difficult and dangerous. There’s a war, bombs continue exploding 24-7, and they probably will not have even a minute of peace to sleep. But no one has asked us to stay, everyone wants to go back to family and they say that they prefer to die there than stay here. They love their homeland, Syria”, so says Issa Fares.
Among the 17 patients Syrians who at this time are at the hospital in Safed, a man of about fifty was willing to talk in front of the cameras, provided that we did not show his face. In fact, being in Israel is very risky both for their lives and that of family members, given that relations between the two respective governments are anything but good for decades.
So this person told us what happened to him when he was injured and how he is currently in Israel, “we had nothing to live on: neither water nor bread, nor flour, no electricity, no phone, nor diesel. Nothing. I could not even give something to my children to enable them to live. One day I was able to get some the milk; I went to another village to sell it and get some money to buy bread. In other countries, there are government soldiers who control the entire area and therefore the bread ovens work regularly. When you move you do it only at night, not during the day, because if they notice a car or a moving person they are targeted by bombs, tanks and snipers. This time I was moving at nine o’clock in the evening to go home after buying bread. There was no light, everything was dark. I drove a scooter. At the time when a machine came along side me, a roadside bomb exploded. I woke up in an infirmary, not in a real hospital. They did some checks, and put me in contact with the Israeli army and I was transferred to Israel. At first, I was admitted to the hospital in Nahariya, then they transferred me to Safed. I was welcomed well, they gave me everything, both from the medical point of view and that of a human being. They treated me with respect. I thank all the doctors, nurses and various employees.”
Despite being aware of the difficult situation in which he finds his country, this gentleman wants to go back: “I’m not afraid to go back to Syria. I fear, though, for when I’m there because I do not know where my family is (now they are here for 5 months). I heard later that bombs and missiles were launched on our town; if they are all gone, I do not know where. I’m afraid of this but I want to go back to continue my life. I cannot leave my country.”
Federica Foiadelli – TV Telepace Holy Land