Israel on Saturday allowed a TV report to provide the most detailed exposure to date of its medical assistance to victims of the Syrian civil war. And one of the patients interviewed for the report, named as Bilal, described from his hospital bed how the civil war began in his home town of Daraa two years ago.
The report on Channel 10 news showed extensive coverage of numerous Syrian patients being treated in two hospitals in northern Israel, and brief footage of the field hospital Israel has established on the Golan Heights border between the two countries.
Some 100 serious medical cases have been allowed into Israel since February for treatment. The less serious cases are treated at the field hospital. Israel has said it offers the care as an act of humanitarian assistance, while endeavoring to stay out of the Syrian war, in which an estimated 100,000 people have been killed.
All the Syrian patients shown in the Israeli hospitals in the Saturday night broadcast had their features blurred to prevent their identification. Syria and Israel are formally at war, and the patients’ lives would likely be in danger on their return home if it was known they were in Israel, the report made clear. “If it gets out that you were in Israel,” one of the patients said, “that’s the end for you.”
Among those currently in an Israeli hospital, and featured in the TV report, is a man who was named as Bilal, from Daraa in southern Syria, where the uprising against President Bashar Assad began. Bilal said the protests in his city started when a teenage boy was tortured for spraying anti-Assad graffiti, confirming other media reports. The governor of the local jail, whom Bilal named as Atif Najib, reportedly a relative of Assad’s, ordered the boy tortured for three days; “they tore out his fingernails,” Bilal said.
Locals demanded that Najib be removed from his post and kicked out of Dara, and they held a spontaneous demonstration in which Bilal said he participated. But the regime ordered a brutal crackdown. It was this confrontation that sparked what developed into the civil war, Bilal said.
Bilal, who said he fought with the rebels, is being treated for severe wounds to his leg, among other injuries. He said Assad’s forces had destroyed his family’s home.
Several of the patients accused the Assad regime of horrific brutality. The worst media reports, one of them said, were “nothing compared to the true awfulness” of what is unfolding across the border.
The directors of the two Israeli hospitals filmed, in Safed and Nahariya, both spoke of the imperative to treat the victims, and said they were honored to be able to do so. “If I as a doctor can help save others,” said Dr. Oscar Embon, the head of Safed’s Ziv Medical Center, “that’s a privilege.” Dr. Massad Barhoun, the director of the Western Galilee Hospital in the border town of Nahariya, said it was “a moral obligation” to help the injured.
Among the other patients currently in Israel is a five-year-old girl whose sister was killed by a fragmentation grenade thrown by Assad forces, and whose mother carried her in her arms to the Israeli border, seeking treatment for her from injuries sustained in the same attack, the report said.
Another patient is a three-year-old girl most of whose family was killed in a shelling attack that badly injured her. She is being looked after by the aunt of another patient, and is not aware that she is in Israel.
One of the patients in the report said word had spread in Syria that Israel’s hospitals are excellent. Injured victims of the civil war increasingly implored those who wished to help them to take them to Israel rather than other neighboring countries with which Syria is not at war, such as Jordan.
Another patient said many Syrian doctors have fled their jobs, because their hospitals have been shelled. The report said the influx of serious cases to Israel is escalating. It said the UN plays a role in ferrying the injured across no man’s land, either to the field hospital or to the hospitals inside Israel.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in early June confirmed for the first time that Israel was operating the field hospital on the Syrian border and transferring severely wounded Syrian nationals to Israeli hospitals for treatment.