Once inside Israel’s hospitals, the ‘terrorist’ becomes the ‘patient’
It's an acquired skill, but Israeli trauma physicians treating the new wave of Palestinian terrorists somehow manage to leave their emotions at the door
Accused Hamas terrorist Abdelrahman al-Shaludi was brought with severe gunshot wounds by ambulance to Shaare Zedek Medical Center on October 22. He had been shot by police as he tried to flee the scene at a crowded Jerusalem light rail station where he had allegedly run over bystanders, killing two of them, including a 3-month-old baby, Chaya Zissel Braun.
One of Shaludi’s victims, an injured woman, was transported to the hospital at the same time. Doctors at Shaare Zedek opted to treat the terrorist first.
As the doctors saw it, it wasn’t really a choice. Shaludi’s condition was more critical, so he needed more urgent medical attention, regardless of what he had done.
Whatever their opinions about what happens outside the hospital, once they stand within its walls, Israeli physicians, sworn by oath to do no harm and save lives, say they manage to put aside their emotions and treat each and every patient equally.
‘We gave him 30 units of blood. We did everything we would have done had it been the prime minister or the president, God forbid’
“Five department heads were called in to try to help save this guy who purposely ran people over,” Dr. Ofer Merin, Shaare Zedek’s deputy director and head of trauma, told The Times of Israel. (Shaare Zedek is coincidentally where Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehudah Glick is being treated following an assassination attempt by a Palestinian gunman on October 29.)
The team of physicians performed two surgeries on Shaludi, but he died on the operating table five hours after having been brought to the hospital.
“We gave him 30 units of blood. We did everything we would have done had it been the prime minister or the president, God forbid,” said Merin.
Merin does not deny that seeing victims of terrorist attacks rushed in to the emergency room can provoke strong emotions, but he insists that medical professionals are able to flip the necessary switch, so to speak, in order to turn off those feelings.
It’s an acquired skill, and younger doctors and nurses learn it by observing the example set by more senior medical professionals.
“If you were to walk in to the OR, you’d have no way of telling who was on the operating table based on the medical staff’s speech or behavior,” said Merin.
Dr. Moshe Salai, head of the orthopedics division at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, says the same would happen at his hospital.
In fact it did, when Nur al-Din Abu Hashiyeh, the suspect in a nationalistically motivated stabbing attack at a Tel Aviv train station on Monday that killed soldier Almog Shiloni, was brought in after security forces arrested him not far from the scene.
Abu Hashiyeh suffered a cut to his wrist. He was treated and discharged on Tuesday and is expected back at the hospital next week for further evaluation and surgery.
Salai has treated many terrorists and members of terrorists’ families who have been allowed in to Israel for treatment unavailable to them in Gaza or the West Bank.
He even recalls instances when these patients were lying in a bed next to one filled by a terror victim.
“You treat every patient the same, even if he is cuffed to the bed,” said Salai, whose own cousin was killed, and another cousin severely injured, in a suicide bombing attack at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center in March 1996.
The only sign that Maher Hamdi al-Hashalmoun, currently being treated at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, is an alleged terrorist is that his bed in the intensive care unit is guarded by military police.
Hashalmoun, who is associated with Islamic Jihad, is accused of stabbing Dalia Lemkus to death and injuring two other people at a bus stop at the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut on Monday afternoon, after first attempting to run the victims down with his car.
According to Dr. Avi Rivkind, head of the division of emergency and trauma medicine at Hadassah, Al-Hashalmoun, who came in with injuries to his lung, liver and left arm after having been shot by a security guard, has an excellent prognosis.
“He will absolutely walk out of here. On Wednesday he is scheduled for a second-look surgery and then we will send him home, though I am sure he is heading to jail,” said Rivkind.
What ultimately happens to an alleged terrorist is up to the justice system, not the medical profession.
“We are not judges,” said Merin.
He says medical staff must be cautious when someone labeled a “terrorist” comes in, because there is always the chance that he might turn out not to be one. The only label they should affix to the person is “patient.”
“I have personal experience with two cases in which ‘terrorists’ really weren’t terrorists, like with the guy who ran over the soldiers last week,” Merin said, referring to a November 5 incident near Gush Etzion Junction that security officials said might have been a traffic accident.
Merin admits that if political and security conditions continue to deteriorate, it could get harder for doctors and nurses to keep their emotions at bay.
“During the Second Intifada, at some point, it got difficult to keep seeing innocent people targeted by terrorists,” he said.
Rivkind, on the contrary, has no concern that he and his colleagues at Hadassah (which has treated more victims of terror than any other Israeli hospital, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005) will suffer burnout.
“It was much worse during the Second Intifada, when we had 18 fatalities in one day,” he said.
“Even then, no one ever failed to come in to work when called. In fact, we didn’t have to call them. They just came in,” he said.
Rivkind is sure that the same attitude of professionalism will prevail in Israeli hospitals even if there will be more cases when terrorists are rushed in together with their victims.
“I can’t stand in front of a guy who’s going to die and just look at him. It’s not in my DNA. It’s not in my RNA. It’s not in my spirit. That won’t change,” he said.