An inside perspective on the IDF field hospital at the Syrian border

Click photo to download. Caption: Pictured is Dr. Sasha S., a captain in the 7th Armored Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). She is stationed at the IDF field hospital on the border with Syria, under the shadow of Mount Hermon. Credit: Amelia Katzen.

By Amelia Katzen/JNS.org

“The most difficult thing to overcome is their terror,” the young doctor said softly. “All their lives they have been told that Israelis are evil, they are the devil. They come to us because they have no choice. But they are terrified.”

Dr. Sasha S., a captain in the 7th Armored Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), is stationed at the IDF field hospital on the border with Syria, under the shadow of Mount Hermon. She spoke last week to a group of Americans at the Mount Bental observation point, not more than five kilometers from the border town of Quneitra, deserted since the 1967 war with Israel.

As we gazed at the gray line marking the border with Syria, Sasha told us about her first patient, an elderly man with abdominal gunshot wounds that would have been fatal had he not sought treatment from the Israelis. Though the field hospital is outfitted with surgical, orthopedic, and anesthesia units, after initial treatment he still needed to be transported to the intensive care unit in a hospital in Safed.

Click photo to download. Caption: A directional sign on top of Mount Bental, which is located not more than five kilometers from the Syrian town of Quneitra near the Israeli border. Quneitra has been deserted since the 1967 war with Israel. Credit: Amelia Katzen.

“He was so terrified, he would not look at us,” she said. “He would only look at the ceiling, and he refused to talk. After several days, he started to open up. My Arabic is only medical, so I couldn’t talk about much, but I tried to reassure him. Eventually we brought him back to the border, at a different spot from where he came into Israel. … I remember him well, because he was my first patient.”

“I can understand their terror,” Sasha continued. “After all the propaganda they have heard against Israel, suddenly they are dropped among soldiers, all dressed in green uniforms, with flak vests and helmets and weapons—even the doctors. No wonder they are terrified,” she added.

Many Israeli doctors volunteer to serve at the field hospital, Sasha told JNS.org, because they want to get experience with the type of injuries the Syrians are exhibiting: gunshot wounds, blast injuries, damaged limbs. She noted that, as the number of terrorist attacks have diminished in the past decade, such injuries within Israel are fortunately rare.

“Ten years ago, I was doing my training at Hadassah Hospital. A whole generation of doctors has grown up without this kind of experience,” she noted. (In 2007 the number of terrorist bombings within Israel dropped dramatically to one, with three killed, from a high of 47, with 238 killed, in 2002.)

About 750 Syrians have been treated at the field hospital since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, according to Sasha. Asked how she felt about the possibility that she might be treating a member of Al-Qaeda, Sasha replied, “It doesn’t matter. What can I do? The patient needs my help. I am a doctor.”

Amelia Katzen is the General Manager of JNS.org.

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Posted on February 26, 2014 and filed under Features, Israel.