Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. – Leviticus 19:18b
Since Israel and Syria were established in the earlier part of the 20th century; both countries have been in a state of war with no diplomatic relationship. They have fought three major wars, made armistice arrangements; and attempted peace efforts without success. Syria has never recognised the establishment of Israel as a state and therefore doesn’t accept holders of Israeli passports past its borders. Israel does not typically allow its citizens to go into what it considers an enemy state. The hostile neighbor participates in the Arab League Boycott, and apart from limited apple trade and water agreements that benefit the Druze citizens of Israel, there are virtually no economic or cultural ties between the two countries. Regardless of the close proximity to the fighting and the occasional stray projectiles from Syrian fighting, the IDF has not got involved in that war.
Nevertheless, at an Israel Defense Forces base on the Syria-Israel border, at Israel’s expense; a field hospital was especially set up for treating Syrians during the worst years of their civil war which erupted in 2011. Some of the patients were civilian non-combatants and even had injuries or ailments unrelated to the fighting; often showing up carrying their medical records.
What may come as a surprise to many is that two years after the field hospital closed; there are still citizens of Syria who are currently patients at hospitals in northern Israel. The Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed, the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, Poriya Hospital in Tiberias and the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa have treated multiple hundreds of Syrian patients; most of whom are casualties of the ongoing conflict against the Assad Regime.
The IDF Medical Corps administer first aid to the injured Syrians at the border, saving lives more often than not, before sending them in an ambulance to one of the above-mentioned hospitals. With the continued fighting between Assad and the rebels, there is a steady flow of Syrian nationals flooding into Israel and they are being treated by Israelis.
Sergeant Rotem Einav and 2nd Lieutenant Leshem Shirgaouker are two of the female medics who treat these patients at the border. Sergeant Einav is a paramedic who has been stationed on the Golan Heights for close to half a year in the IDF Medical Corps. She describes some of the wounded and describes the thrill of saving the over 100 Syrians she has treated. She shared with Ynet:
I wasn’t trained to treat Israelis, Jews, or Syrians. I was trained to treat people. If I see someone who needs help, someone who is in distress, my moral obligation is to help them. I don’t even think about it. I see these people who are injured when they go back to Syria. It gives me the opportunity to see how they’ve changed medically. We see that they also understand, that they know – and they also appreciate it. It’s really heart-warming.
2nd Lieutenant Leshem Shirgaouker used to be a medic in the air force before transferring to the IDF Medical Corps. As well as being a medic, she also plays a vital administrative role in receiving the patients, classifying them according to their injuries, deciding where to send them and collecting medical information to forward to the hospitals where the Syrians get their treatment. She says:
The humanitarian work that the IDF is doing and the treatment they are giving to wounded Syrians fills me with satisfaction and pride. This is the greatest place to find yourself as a medical professional. You’re here saving lives. It doesn’t matter if they’re Jewish, Arab, or an enemy. They’re here and they’re injured, and I will do everything I can for them. That’s the message I give to my soldiers. When I help send them back to Syria and see that their condition has improved, there’s no greater feeling.
Even though this work that Israel does is not reported on widely, it has received some attention in foreign press and even Al Jazeera had something to say about it; acknowledging that Syrians are grateful for the help they have received from Israel.