IDF medics: more than a bandaid for Israelis, Palestinians
October 23, 2012 | Atara Beck - Israel Correspondent
Standing in front of an ICU ambulance at army base, from the left: Yakir Levi, medical officer for the Shomron Brigade; Orel Ben Court, paramedic; Shai Zilberzwige, paramedic; Dan Ushakov, ambulance driver, and Dorn Naki, medic.
SHOMRON – At the Shomron (Samaria) regional brigade base, where army physicians respond regularly to emergencies involving Jews and Arabs alike, the Jewish Tribune was invited to a private briefing organized by the North American media desk of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to clarify the role of IDF physicians and paramedics in an area of conflict where about 14,000 Jews and 400,000 Palestinians reside.
“When we get information that someone needs treatment, the question of whether the person is a settler, a Palestinian or a Jew doesn’t matter throughout the treatment,” said the head physician of the entire division of Judea and Samaria, who will be referred to as Lt. Col. N. in this report. Neither his full name nor a photo could be publicized because of a former post that he held in a classified unit.
In the northern West Bank, about 65 kms north of Jerusalem, the closest towns to the base are the Jewish farming community of Itamar – which became known worldwide in March 2011 following the horrific murder of five members of the Fogel family – and the biblical city of Shechem (Nablus), which in December 1995 was handed over to the Palestinian Authority in accordance with the Oslo Accords.
Doctors, paramedics and medics are deployed throughout Judea and Samaria – home to about 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs and 300,000 Jews. Yakir Levi, medical officer for the Shomron Brigade, said that 400,000 Palestinians and about 14,000 Jews live in the 40 Palestinian villages and 12 Jewish settlements within his jurisdiction.
“We have some cooperation, but it’s not good enough,” Lt.-Col. N. said. “As an example, last March I was on a tour of the Ramallah hospital and we spoke about what they need. Exactly a week before, there was a horrible accident – a school bus with 51 children was hit by a truck, tilted on one side, where the doors [for escape] were. It caught on fire. There were lots of severely burned children; 10 died.
“We discussed the accident,” he continued. “We had immediately offered to help. If you get 50 children with burns, even in the best hospitals it’s a catastrophe. The Palestinians had refused our help.”
At the hospital, he was informed that the decision not to accept aid was made according to “direct orders from Abu Mazen [aka Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority] not to transfer to an Israeli hospital….
“Perhaps to show we don’t care about their grief,” he surmised.
Almost three hours after the accident, “we got a call from Ramallah Medical Centre for help; they wanted to transfer patients. Children were dying. I brought ambulances to the checkpoints. We sent eight children to six different hospitals….
“One father later wrote on the Internet [that] it’s very sad that Jews were struggling to save these children and the PA was making it so difficult. He also said that one month later was the first time [that] a PA representative went to visit with the children at Tel Hashomer. They brought a gift – a play station from Abu Mazen, even though they had no fingers [because they were burned].”
None of this was published anywhere, not even in the Israeli media. Israel’s enemies “do a much better job demonizing us,” he said.
The brigade medics cooperate with Magen David Adom (MDA) in the region.
“The difference between MDA and the Palestinian Red Crescent is that the Palestinian paramedics are not well-trained in modern ways,” Lt.-Col. N. said. “The Palestinian doctors are good because they’re trained in Israel. They’re sometimes disappointed that we don’t have a good medical relationship because of the political situation. For example, the hospitals have ICU (intensive care units) but no ICU-trained doctors. They need permission from the Palestinian ministry of health for more training, and [the request] usually stays there.”
When a medical emergency involving a Palestinian occurs, the medical crew decides whether to evacuate the patient to a Palestinian centre or an Israeli hospital, depending on the situation.
“There was a road accident here with a Palestinian officer,” Lt.-Col. N. said. “He got a head injury. We could go to a neurosurgeon 10 minutes away in Nablus or 45 minutes to Beilinson. So sometimes, taking him to Beilinson could kill him….
“In 2012, we had three cases of severely injured Palestinians that were evacuated to Israeli hospitals using the army’s medical choppers. Usually in the West Bank, if you put the patient in an ICU ambulance, you get there faster than by chopper. But in specific cases, the chopper is quicker. We don’t use them a lot…. We used eight this year. Three were for Palestinians. We decide each time according to the specific case and we don’t ever consider the [financial] cost.”
Discussing the difference in values between the IDF and the PA, Yakir Levi told the Tribune about a man in his 60s who collapsed at a checkpoint – not due to a long waiting period, but because of poor health.
“A Palestinian ambulance happened to pass by and took him to Nablus. On the way, they searched his pocket and discovered he was an Israeli Arab, not a Palestinian. They took him back to the checkpoint and drove away. A soldier called us. He died.”
The medical oath to treat patients equally, with priority to the most critically injured, includes terrorists.
Last June, on a civilian road near Bethlehem, a Palestinian attempted to stab Israelis. Confronted by an Israeli officer, he accidentally stabbed himself, puncturing his heart.
“We called an ICU ambulance,” Lt.-Col. N. said. “They took him to Hadassah Ein Kerem. He almost died. Now he’s in jail.”
Is spending government resources on saving a terrorist and feeding him in an Israeli prison good policy?
“After every emergency treatment, we do an investigation to see what we can learn,” Lt.-Col. N. explained. “Once he’s unarmed, he’s a wounded patient and we’re obliged to treat him under medical oath. We swear to help every wounded patient, whether a loved one or a foe. I didn’t visit these patients later in the hospital, like I do for others. There are many cases like that….
“It’s not easy for a medic or paramedic to treat someone who just tried to kill his friend,” he acknowledged. “There are moral questions. Who do you treat first, a severely wounded terrorist or a lightly wounded Israeli? It’s not simple, but the rules are strict and clear.”