The Israel/Syria Story No One is Talking About
Having followed news about Israel for most of my adult life, it seems to me that the common expression “bad news travels fast” especially applies to stories about Israel in the foreign press. The flip side of that expression seems to hold true as well: Positive news about Israel seems to travel slowly.
I've been thinking more about this recently as I welcome groups and individuals from all over the world – Jews from all streams of Judaism, as well as non-Jews –to the Galilee Medical Center (GMC). I am a liaison in its International Affairs Department.
The favorable news I’m thinking about is that most of the visitors I meet with from abroad do not know that for more than three years, in an internal humanitarian effort, the Galilee Medical Center and several other hospitals in the North of Israel have been treating Syrians wounded in that country's civil war. The GMC alone has treated more than 900 Syrians, one third of them women and children under the age of 18. We are presently the main treatment center for them and have seen the bulk of the casualties, as well. In Israel, these patients receive the highest level of medical care and procedures not available to them in their home country, whose medical system has all but collapsed.
The story has been reported in the foreign press in a number of outlets, including the New York Times. Still, time and time again, as I introduce visitors to the GMC and share with them its history, experiences and some of our accomplishments, I find that most guests are not familiar with the effort that Israel is conducting on behalf of people who are technically citizens of an enemy country.
The Syrians are brought for treatment by Israeli troops stationed at Israel's border with Syria. How these patients get to the troops is not known by our medical staff, nor is it their concern. The emergency room staff simply receives the Syrian casualties from the army as patients, and our medical professionals provide state-of-the-art lifesaving treatment to them, as caregivers do.
Still, I think about how this effort to offer aid to injured Syrians found by Israeli soldiers guarding our border came about. I know that when Israeli soldiers finish their medic training and take the oath, they state:
"I, a soldier in the Medical Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, take an oath and swear on this day, to extend a helping hand to the wounded and to the sick. Whether common or distinguished, friend or enemy. To each with respect I promise to bring healing and cure to the body and soul, to be discrete, faithful, and act with dignity, to weigh all my actions with reason, discretion, and compassion...”
It is the duty of these soldiers to provide care for anyone in need, regardless of religion, skin color, or nationality – friend or enemy. I see this as an extension of principles deeply rooted in Jewish history and tradition, including tikkun olam (repairing the world) and chesed (performing acts of loving kindness and focusing on others), which are a basis for Israel's commitment to help those in need around the world.
Just as the Western Galilee is half Arab (including Muslims, Christians, and Druze) and half Jewish, the patients and staff of the GMC – the region's largest institution and employer – reflect the local multicultural diversity. Doctors and nurses who attend to the Syrians can speak to them in Arabic, their native tongue, and provide support to them as they come to grips with the fact that they are in Israel, being treated by Israelis who they have been taught to view as their enemy.
This story of Israel’s diversity, coexistence and humanitarian aid as evidenced by the GMC community moves me, and especially now, I feel it is important to share it with others.
In his remarks at the 2014 AIPAC Policy Conference, Dr. Masad Barhoum, general director of the GMC, said:
"Israel's decision to provide medical care to Syrians in their time of need is a recognition of a shared humanity and compassion that to us has no race, no ethnicity and no borders."
The care and compassion the GMC provides to the Syrians is in line with its motto, Adam l'Adam – Adam, or “Person to Person – Person” which means that when one enters the gates of the medical center they are simply viewed as caregiver or patient, regardless of their background, religion, or culture. Everyone is just a human being.