Newly De-Classified Field Hospital on Syria-Israel Border

Published on Thursday, 12 September 2013 by Dillon Hosier

Newly De-Classified Field Hospital on Syria-Israel Border
Even as the violence within Syria continued to escalate in recent months, the IDF had been quietly operating a full field hospital on the Israel- Syrian border, treating hundreds of Syrian citizens injured in the fighting. While numerous news reports had discussed how Israeli hospitals in the country’s North were treating Syrians, until now the existence of this active IDF medical effort on the border had remained classified under the military’s orders.

Many details of the IDF Medical Corps role in treating wounded in the Syrian conflict remain secret but the existence of the field hospital was only approved for release in an extensive story in Yediot Aharonot published just before Rosh Hashanah.

Dr. Ofer Merin, Deputy Director General at Shaare Zedek and a Lieutenant Colonel in the IDF serves in the reserves as the Commander of the IDF Field Hospital. Dr. Merin has been involved in recent months in helping oversee the setup and operations of the hospital.

Speaking to Yediot Aharonot, Dr. Merin says that treating the Syrian patients required both caring for their direct medical needs as well as recognizing their deep emotional scars and fears. “When the patients reach us, they are in a state of complete shock with deep suspicion directed towards the Israelis,” he says. “It’s difficult for them to accept even a cup of water we offer or take the food given to then. But this is a natural response for someone who until that very moment viewed us as the enemy.”

Dr. Merin recalled the story of an injured Syrian who underwent an extensive surgery and was unconscious for several days. “We were genuinely concerned what his reaction would be if the first thing he saw when he woke up was an officer dressed in an IDF uniform.” The solution they designed was to bring another Syrian patient who had already learned that he could trust the IDF personnel and he would be the first person to speak with the patient. “It can take time, sometimes hours or days before the Syrians can realize that we’re there to treat them and not to interrogate them. But it’s remarkable to witness this transformation taking place before our eyes.”

Dr. Merin says that the care has clearly superseded any previously held conceptions of politics or who is the enemy. He tells the story of a mother who was treated alongside her two daughters. Upon release from the field hospital she turned to Dr. Merin and said, “When the day comes when there’s no longer a border between our lands, you’ll come to my home and I’ll cook you a full dinner,” proceeding to describe the extensive menu she had in mind including a promise to slaughter a prized goat to show her true appreciation for what the doctor had done for her. “At that moment I felt a real appreciation that I was part of a historical mission,” he said.

Pressed to answer whether he was concerned that he was treating people who were anti-Israel, Dr. Merin answered unequivocally. “The thought didn’t enter my mind for even a second and it doesn’t matter to me which side of the conflict the patient is on. Lying in front of me is a mother who was caring for her children. We’re no longer Syrians or Israelis but just human beings, a doctor and his patient…. In my mind there is no greater opportunity to highlight the potential for peace than through medical healing.“ He adds, “I realize that we’re not changing the Middle East here but maybe we can make a small difference in how we are perceived, and that’s certainly worth something.”

Describing a large Israeli flag that adorns the wall of one of the treatment room and is in full sight of many of the Syrian patients, Dr. Merin says, “If there is one thing that I hope impacts upon our patients it’s that Israel is a very different entity than the one that they have always believed it to be. And that flag and what we’re doing here is a representative of our true identity.”

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