Israel has obligation to aid Ukraine in the face of war crimes, says health minister

Speaking at ceremony honoring staff of Shining Star field hospital, Nitzan Horowitz and FM Yair Lapid insist Israel did not abandon Ukraine

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks at a ceremony honoring the staff of the Shining Star field hospital Israel sent to Ukraine, May 29, 2022 (screen shot/GPO)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks at a ceremony honoring the staff of the Shining Star field hospital Israel sent to Ukraine, May 29, 2022 (screen shot/GPO)

Israel has a “moral obligation” to offer humanitarian aid to Ukraine while it is subjected to war crimes from invading forces, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Sunday.

“We as a country have a moral obligation to stretch out our arm to Ukraine in the face of acts of butchery and cruel war crimes that are still being carried out now on its soil,” said Horowitz at a Foreign Ministry ceremony honoring the staff of the Shining Star field hospital that operated for six weeks in western Ukraine.

Though he accused Russia of war crimes last month by name, this time Horowitz refrained from mentioning Russia. 

Speaking before Horowitz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also avoided mentioning Russia or specifically condemning the invasion as he has in the past.

The 6,000 Ukrainians treated at the field hospital that Israel set up in the war-torn country are “living witnesses to the fact that Israel did not stand by” while Ukraine was under attack, Lapid insisted.

Israel has come under criticism in some quarters for its position on the war. Jerusalem has sought to maintain open communication with both Russia and Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade on February 24. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a handful of calls during the war’s first weeks with both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as he sought to exploit Israel’s working ties with both countries to help mediate a ceasefire to end the war.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a ceremony honoring staff of the “Shining Star” field hospital that Israel operated in western Ukraine, May 29, 2022. (Screen capture: GPO)

At the same time, Israel has rejected requests from Kyiv and the West to send military equipment such as anti-missile batteries, part of a policy meant to preserve ties with Russia. Instead it has sent some 100 tons of humanitarian aid and set up the field hospital.

The hospital had been the flagship of Israel’s assistance to Ukraine.

“Relations between countries are not based only on interests but also on values,” Lapid said.

A Ukrainian medical team from Lviv is slated to arrive in Israel in two weeks to receive training in emergency medicine, Lapid announced at the ceremony. He added that every foreign minister and foreign journalist he’s met with since the hospital’s opening has brought it up.

The hospital in Mostyska, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Lviv, operated under the name “Kohav Meir” (“Shining Star”), a pun on the name of former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, who was born in Ukraine and was the founder of the Foreign Ministry’s Agency for International Development Cooperation aid program, which led the project along with Sheba Medical Center.

During six weeks of operation, the hospital treated more than 6,000 patients and delivered at least one baby. Most of those treated were not war wounded, but rather civilians who may have otherwise struggled to receive care with Ukraine’s resources stretched thin by the invasion.

A Ukrainian flag hangs at a schoolhouse that has been converted into an Israeli field hospital, in Mostyska, western Ukraine, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

“There is a question that I must often ask myself as foreign minister, and that question is, how do I want Israel to look in the world?” said Lapid. “Now I have an answer. I want it to look like you.

“Israel was, and remains, the only country in the world that sent an entire hospital into Ukraine.”

In April, Horowitz visited the hospital and said the visit sent a message of Israel’s “solidarity with Ukraine in the face of a brutal Russian invasion and in the face of the massacres and war crimes that are being uncovered these days across the country.”

Horowitz was apparently referring to the scenes that came out of Bucha days before, after Russian forces retreated and Ukrainian authorities and journalists say they found scores of bodies in streets and evidence of mass graves, leading to charges of genocide.

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