Syria; one word, five letters. The word itself is so imperceptibly simple, and still so incredibly significant. It is the name of a relatively small Middle Eastern nation plagued by conflict and coinciding social cleavages, shaken by a tolling civil war, a polarizing, politicized, and painful civil war. The nation’s citizens have become both soldiers and victims in this disastrous affair. With 400,000 dead and an additional 1.6 million injured, the question remains: who is there to assist the citizens of this despotic, war-torn nation?
The answer to this question, of course, is Israel, the Jewish State. Ziv Hospital, strategically located in the Golan Heights, about 30 kilometers from the Syrian border, treats individuals affected by Syria’s civil war. Since November of 2016, there have been more than 720 Syrian patients at the hospital, 132 of whom are children. These Syrians come from an IDF field hospital, which provides only first aid and primary triage. From there, people may be discharged or transferred to Ziv Hospital and other Israeli hospitals. This system has been in place since February of 2013, when Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon decided to allow Syrians to enter Israel to receive medical treatment. Syrian patients at the Ziv Hospital tend to have complex, multi-system injuries as a result of bombings in their home city of Dera’a. Though Syrians occupy approximately 50% of ICU beds and technically drain hospital resources, the response from the Israeli community has been overwhelmingly positive. In the words of renowned Ziv hospital pediatrician Michael Harari, “Saving one Syrian will not influence the greater Middle East. It is, however, empowering to do something for another human being rather than sit home idly.” I, along with nine other students from ‘Write On For Israel,” was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Harari as well as interact with Syrian patients at the hospital.
The first room that we visited was home to four Syrian gentleman, whom our translator and guide believed may have been active participants in the resistance. As we attempted to adjust to the harsh reality of modern warfare, it took everything we had to keep our emotions in check. The 17-year-old had a bullet in the leg; the man in his 20s had a knee issue; the other young man had received a tracheotomy because he could no longer breathe through his mouth; the eldest of the four men had both of his legs amputated below the knee. In spite of their circumstances, there was an air of optimism about the room; as they answered our questions, the men met our eyes and smiled. They were thankful to have been treated in Israel by compassionate and skillful Israeli doctors. In fact, they had virtually no qualms with Israel. They were not Zionists, however; they disapproved of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. When asked about their plans for the future, the men were animated, passionately proclaiming that they intended to return to Syria and asserting that their victory was both assured and imminent.
Whether the men we met fought for Assad, Al Qaeda, or someone else entirely, the doctors at the Ziv Hospital did not care. This confused me for quite some time. Upon gazing into the eyes of the Syrian men, upon seeing their war wounds and battle scars, I finally understood. I saw neither terrorists nor soldiers. In the small room, framed by blue tiles, packed with medical equipment, I saw human beings, imperfect individuals with passions and fears who yearned for better tomorrows than todays. There was fear behind their smiles, pain in their eyes. Lying in hospital beds, they were as human as I was.
The second room we visited was the temporary home of a baby boy and his mother. The boy, only seven months old, was not wounded by the civil war; rather, he suffered from kidney inflammation and a distended abdomen, as so many American and Israeli children do. Similar to the men, the baby flashed us a toothless smile and extended his small arms toward us when we entered the room. When we spoke to his mother, she eagerly told us of her story. She had always been told that Israelis were Satanic worshippers, but had decided to take her son to Israel after being referred to the Ziv Hospital by the only doctor in Dera’a. With only her son and the clothing they wore, she walked along the Israeli-Syrian border until IDF soldiers opened a gate and ushered them into an ambulance.
After having spent a week in Israel, the woman said that she was thankful for Israeli aid and has drastically changed her opinion about the Jewish State and its inhabitants. Eyes bright, she described her desire to return to her family in Syria and her decision to one day tell her son that the generosity of the Israelis saved his life. When asked whether she had any apprehensions about returning, the woman smiled softly, “I have many fears, fears that they will hurt my family for being involved with Israel, but life goes on. Syria is our home.”
Standing in those two rooms, I was touched. I am amazed by this beautiful nation and proud to be a member of its extensive and inclusive community. Day in and day out, this one statement continues to ring true: Israel is a light unto the nations.
Jordanna Yochai is student at Hewlett High School and is member of the Write On For Israel class of 2017.