While it’s no secret over 3,000 wounded Syrians, including hundreds of children, have been treated in Israeli hospitals, just a few are aware of Operation ‘Good Neighbor’ with the IDF distributing baby food, medicine, generators, school supplies to 200,000 civilians on Israel’s north-east border, in the Syrian Golan Heights.
By Adi Hashmonai
Four and a half years after Israel first gave aid to Syrians injured in the civil war ravaging the country, Ziv Medical Center in Safed Director Dr. Salman Zarka says the move is “a clear message to the world that Israelis are humane, extending a helping hand and successfully saving our enemies’ lives too.”
On the morning of Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, seven injured Syrians, all of them with moderate to critical injuries, surprised the Israel Defense Forces by approaching the border fence with Israel. The battalion aid station doctor and the medics who treated them understood that the only way to save their lives would be to evacuate them to Ziv Medical Center in Safed.
They were the first wounded Syrians to arrive in Israel. Since then, the Jewish state has provided systematic and sustained humanitarian aid on a massive level to wounded nationals from Syria, an enemy state, for the first time in its history. Zarka, then a commander of the military field hospital set up near the Syrian border, is today a colonel in the reserves and head of the Ziv Medical Center, which continues to treat wounded Syrians.
“I would have never imagined that I would be giving medical treatment to Syrians,” Zarka admits. “I feel as if I’m working for the Foreign Ministry, even though I have no position or salary [from them]. We sent a clear message to the world that we Israelis are humane, extending a helping hand and successfully saving our enemies’ lives too.”
In the four and a half years since then, Israel has treated over 3,000 injured Syrian patients in field hospitals and medical centers in the north, 70% in Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya and 20% in Ziv Medical Center in Safed. Last year, the IDF expanded its humanitarian aid to infrastructure as well, transferring baby food, medicine, generators and school supplies to 200,000 civilians in the Syrian Golan Heights who live up to seven miles from the border. This is part of the IDF’s Operation Good Neighbor, which aims to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrians.
As news articles proclaim the beginning of the end of the civil war in Syria, officials have tried to estimate the benefits of the Israeli government’s unique efforts, which have cost millions of shekels. Hospital administrators in Ziv Medical Center in Safed and Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya feel that in the past half decade they have succeeded in bringing the periphery of Israel to the center of the world stage.
“The biggest event I was invited to attend was in 2014,” said Dr. Masad Barhoum, director of Western Galilee Hospital. “I was invited then to open the AIPAC conference and lecture on humanitarian aid we give to the wounded from Syria. Since then, to this day, I and our senior doctors have been invited to give speeches dozens of times in the world, which includes lectures NATO invited us to give. Before the [Syrian] war, I also lectured around the world, but far less.”
Despite the appreciation for their field work in Israel and around the world, there have been no dramatic changes to northern medical centers’ government budgets or donations.
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