Syria’s wounded find medical care in Israeli hospitals despite official hostilities
The quiet hospital ward in northern Israel is a world away from the ravages of Syria’s civil war but scores of wounded Syrians, ignoring long-standing taboos concerning relations with the Jewish state, are receiving treatment here.
Fatima, a Syrian woman who ended up in Ziv hospital with her daughter after a blast shattered their legs in their hometown of Daraa, was full of praise for the medical staff.
“They care about us and have shown us a lot of respect,” she said.
But mindful that Syria and Israel are technically still at war following their 1967 and 1973 conflicts, she was reluctant to be identified, asking that pseudonyms be used both for herself and for her daughter.
“Please do not show our faces,” she asked AFP photographers.
The 41-year-old mother of nine, who lost contact with her family after the blast more than a month ago, is one of 73 Syrians who have been treated for their wounds in Israel since early this year.
“I was deafened by the explosion,” Fatima told AFP from her bed in the hospital, which perches on a rocky hilltop in the upper Galilee town of Safed.
“I was in a daze, and don’t know how I got here or who brought me. I remember people picking me up and helping me, and the next thing I knew, I was in an Israeli hospital.”
Fatima was carrying out routine chores when a mortar shell hit her house, wounding her and her daughter “Zahra”.
Doctors described Fatima’s injury as “severe blast trauma, with loss of tissue and bone from her ankle”, while Zahra suffered fractures to both legs.
A 15-year-old Syrian girl in the next bed along, also from Daraa, was less fortunate, losing both her legs from wounds sustained in a blast.
Tensions have been running high in Israel, with the Jewish state fearing the fallout from a possible US strike on Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons use could spill across its northern border.
Israelis have been scurrying to replace old or missing gas masks despite experts assessing the chances of an attack by the Syrian regime or its Lebanese proxies Hezbollah on Israel as low.
The neighbours have been in a state of mutual hostility since Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the strategic Golan Heights plateau during the 1967 Six-Day War, which it later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
But despite the rise in tension, Dr Calin Shapira, Ziv’s deputy head, says no wounded Syrians arriving at the facility are turned away.
“It doesn’t matter where they’re from,” he said. “We take them in and treat them with compassion. It’s important to give medical aid regardless — this is a principle of the medical profession.”
He added that “most of the wounded coming from Syria are just innocent civilians, and haven’t participated in combat. They include many women and children.”
“The Syrians are brought here by the army,” Shapira said.
“We don’t know where they’re from, or who they are. We just know they’re not from (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad’s forces.”
The Israeli army says it has transported dozens of Syrian wounded from the Quneitra ceasefire line crossing in the occupied Golan Heights to Ziv, which is some 40 kilometres (25 miles) away.
“After the injured can safely leave the hospital, they are handed back over to the army, who take them to Syria, but I don’t know where,” Shapira said.
In the trauma unit next door, a young Syrian man was being treated for wounds that he appeared to have suffered during combat.
A dressing protruded from his open stomach, the result of a “bullet wound to the abdomen,” according to the trauma unit’s Dr Yitzhak Kaufmann.
The Syrian man appeared desperate to speak, but could not muster a sound.
“He also had a tracheotomy,” to prevent the spread of a bronchial infection.
One of his fingers had been amputated — the result of another bullet.
“His trigger finger, perhaps,” said one doctor, suggesting the man might be a Syrian rebel fighter.
Referring to allegations that Syria’s regime attacked Damascus suburbs with chemical arms, Fatima, meanwhile, said the effect of the conflict was much the same, whatever weapons were used.
“Everyone’s scared of any kind of strikes and shelling (by the regime), which have been happening for a long time now,” she said, looking down at her shrapnel-battered ankle.
“We just want it to be over when we go home.”