Safed, Israel — The tiny boy, not yet 3, in a hospital room here in this northern city, won’t show up in statistics bearing testament to the horror of the Syrian civil war. Unlike many others, he hasn’t been harmed by shots, or displaced from his home or orphaned — his mother sits dutifully by his bed.

But his serious heart condition has been neglected as a direct result of the conflict, in which the health infrastructure close to his home has been destroyed. He’s a toddler whose healthy development has been held ransom by the horrors of war.

Only here is this boy finally getting the attention he needs. He was transferred here recently, as part of an Israeli military program to move Syrians over the border for medical attention.

The Israeli military, often reticent to discuss details of its work with Syrians — the two countries are technically in a state of war — has just given an unprecedented outline of the scale of its work. More than 4,000 people have been brought to Israel to receive treatment, including hundreds of children. Many are treated here at the Ziv Medical Center, some in other Israeli institutions and still others in an internationally managed field hospital at an Israeli outpost near the border.

The IDF revealed that it has also transferred to Syria seven generators, water pipes to rebuild Syrian infrastructure and equipment for a temporary school, as well as 120,000 gallons of fuel for operating water wells and heating homes and bakery ovens. Other items moved across the border by Israeli officers include 40 tons of flour to bakeries, 225 tons of food, 12,000 packages of baby formula, 1,800 packages of diapers, 12 tons of shoes and 55 tons of winter clothing.

But again, in this region statistics only tell part of a story.

This is especially evident this week, when the nation is shocked by the photographs of a blood-stained floor next to a Shabbat table. Everybody is talking about the brutal murder on Friday night of Yosef Salomon, 70, his daughter, Haya, 46, and his son Elad, 35, in the West Bank settlement of Halamish. (The Palestinian assailant, Omar al-Abed, 19, was shot and injured in the attack.) For many, in a few days or weeks these horrifying pictures will morph into a blur of shocking images from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the victims’ names will become three more on the long list of innocents lost. Each of them, at one point, was the most recent addition — the one that was on people’s minds.

Israeli surgeons working on an injured Syrian. Courtesy of Ziv Medical Center

Statistics in the Syrian theater of war only tell a partial story, failing to capture either the scale of the tragedy or the power of aid.

When children directly harmed by fighting arrive here in Safed, the sights can be astounding even for experienced doctors. “It’s really quite horrifying to see children being caught up in this, losing limbs and losing eyes,” said Anthony Luder, the hospital’s director of pediatrics. “Sometimes it’s surprising they make it here.”

For years before the civil war broke out, the border with Syria was a quiet one. The doctors of Ziv never imagined, even in the early days of the Syrian fighting, that they would one day be treating Syrians. Similarly, IDF officers didn’t have a clear sense that they would become key in providing humanitarian help to Syrians, and the current situation unfolded slowly after appeals by Syrians approaching the border for help.

The Israeli military has just stated that, a year ago, its Northern Command established the headquarters of Operation Good Neighbor, to formalize and expand the help provided. At Ziv, as well as the arrival of urgent cases for hospitalization, there is a bus that arrives every two weeks with children for examinations and outpatient treatment. On “bus days” the hospital is abuzz with activity as doctors race to give all of the Syrians what they need, before they head back home.

Senior physician Michael Harari is the first medical contact for many new Syrian arrivals. The workload from Israeli patients hasn’t decreased since the start of work with Syrians, so running all of this is a challenge for a hospital. “The machinery for running all of this is getting smoother,” said Harari.

Medical staff here spend a lot of time talking to Syrian patients, especially when they are hospitalized for long stints and need emotional and social support as well as medical attention. Language isn’t much of a barrier. Many staff, including the hospital’s director, Salman Zarka, speak Arabic as their mother tongue. Zarka is a Druze, but when I asked him about the decision to treat Syrians — which is a financial burden on the hospital even after fees are received from the IDF — he cited a Jewish idea, tikkun olam, healing the world.

A 15-year-old Syrian girl learns to walk again. Courtesy of Ziv Medical Center

Medical staff here spend a lot of time talking to Syrian patients, especially when they are hospitalized for long stints and need emotional and social support as well as medical attention. Language isn’t much of a barrier. Many staff, including the hospital’s director, Salman Zarka, speak Arabic as their mother tongue. Zarka is a Druze, but when I asked him about the decision to treat Syrians — which is a financial burden on the hospital even after fees are received from the IDF — he cited a Jewish idea, tikkun olam, healing the world.

One thing that staff comes to understand are the dangers that Syrians overcome to become their patients. “It’s a threat to their lives to get to the border,” Harari said. But while doctors understand the dangers they face, see the patients arrive with Israeli military help and now hear Israeli officers openly talking about the scope of Operation Good Neighbor, details of how Israel chooses patients, gets them to the Galilee safely and increasingly, how it helps to ensure they get follow-up treatment when back home, remains something of a mystery. Even top staff at Ziv lack information of how the long arm of Israel stretches into Syria.

But it certainly does stretch, and that long arm operates in the chaos with an efficiency that is hard to grasp. As I stood with Luder, just outside the room of the tiny Syrian heart patient, I asked him about the practical arrangements. He said that he doesn’t know how things work on the other side of the border, but has come to understand just how reliable the machinery is.

He was treating a Syrian girl who needed a bone marrow transplant, but there was no match in Israel. “It was mission impossible,” he said. “But what do you do as a physician? You can’t send a patient to certain death.” In desperation, he started emailing hospitals across the region, and found a Jordanian one with a donor match; the Jordanian hospital even volunteered to perform the transplant for free.

A 10-year-old Syrian boy faces a long recovery after leg amputations. Courtesy of Ziv Medical Center

But while Israel can bring in Syrians for treatment, diplomatic rules mean that it can’t transfer them to a third country. Luder was told that the only chance this girl had of making it to Jordan was via Syria, but he was full of foreboding, feeling that the chance of her making it out of the chaos of Syria to Jordan was very low.

An Israeli official heard his misgivings and confidently whispered to him that it would be OK. “I sent her back and 10 days later I got an email from Jordan saying that she arrived,” Luder said.

There are few certainties in Syria. Early this week the chances of success for a new ceasefire, which started Saturday in the Eastern Ghouta countryside near the capital of Damascus, looked slim. It’s unclear whether the broader ceasefire hammered out earlier this month with President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s input will hold. But what’s almost certain is that Luder and his colleagues will continue to be under pressure as buses from over the border continue to arrive bearing Syrians in desperate need of care and shelter from the storm.

Nathan Jeffay’s column appears twice a month.