Israel The Good Samaritan Aids Syrian Neighbors

Dr. Alex Lerner, war injuries specialist
Dr. Alex Lerner, Israeli war injuries specialist addresses U.S. delegation of journalists photo credit: Kai ELZ

Israel The Good Samaritan Aids Syrian Neighbors

by Kai EL’ Zabar

 The Chicago Defender as part of a U.S. delegation of reporters and bloggers met up with Dr. Alex Lerner one of the world’s leading experts on traumatic battlefield injuries at Ziv Medical Center in northern Israel, one of a group of hospitals that has treated nearly 2,000 injured Syrians over the last two years.  His  concerns are about healing, saving lives and limbs.

“When somebody comes to the border, we don’t ask them who they are. We just make sure that they don’t have any weapons on them. And they get the medical aid that they require,” Lerner said.

And with good reason because the  scars of surgery run deeper than the physicality of the wounds that war inflict upon the victims. However the good doctor said, “I hope maybe our treatment may be one small stone in the building of peace in our region.”  

On the otherhand the work that he does as a doctor must not go without praise. Many require major surgeries and need long term care. He is often the supervising physician and or lead surgeon.  The hospital has treated traumatic  battlefield injuries that have cost victims young and old their limbs and other physical trauma. Each will be left with the mental and emotional scars that come with their experiences as well. 

“We have learned so much about war wounds, lost limbs and burn wounds — the importance of the victims to be with loved ones throughout the healing process,” said Linda Futterman, Director, International Relations. She explained that in one situation the child of a wounded mother feared leaving her mother’s side and refused to move and laid next to her mother hidden under the covers. It was realized early on that the mother wanted her close as well.  This was a major factor in the mother’s healing process.

Due to the differences in language, social workers who serve also  as translators  are paired with  those whose  language they speak from start to finish of the patients treatment. This pairing allows for the doctors to better communicate with the patients. 

“In the hospital, questions of religion and politics matter little to us but rather what we can do to assist the injured in getting well and back to their lives,” said, Issa, a social worker.

According to  Futterman, ” All trauma victims are brought to the hospital by  IDF/(Israel Defense Forces) and are returned  to Syria  by them once treatment is complete. They are brought to Ziv because we are closest to the border. ” She explains further that they arrive very fearful and though in great pain are suspicious of their intentions. One must understand that, “they have grown up as a people believing that the Israelis are the devil and suddenly they find themselves in their care for medical treatment.”  So the difficulty has more to do with the relations between the countries especially when there is none, than it has to do with the  treatment.  Being able to  address the patients special needs which oftentimes is a request for family– to be with family does not go ignored.  

Fortunately most come accompanied by family. Sometimes children 15 and older may come alone. They have revealed that those wounded and were treated who have returned from Israel have shared their experience and  encourage them to go to the border. The word is out that no one is refused.  The Israeli military does not ask them how their injuries were sustained, they simply assist in getting them to the hospital and back across the border after their hospital stay.

Futterman also provides insight,  although some come without family they always ask  that the hospital seek out their family.  This is one of the special needs that is constant amongst the Syrian patients.  She also informed us that once they have been treated ever so slightly they are ready to return. Even those who have lost limbs and need a prosthetic will express their desire to leave, which is dangerous because the wound requires extensive care including   observation for infection and proper alignment to  the prosthetic if it is to be received. This requires  long term treatment and is delicate, sensitive and complex.  Still the victims want to leave.

We met such a patient today who was young, male and ready to leave. The social worker explained to him the danger to his body  in  leaving too soon. Still he spoke of  wanting to leave and return home even as he pointed to where is leg had been. Most of the wounded who come for treatment are men. Their injuries speak of recent combat. Shrapnel wounds. Broken bones, and burns caused by bombs, land mines, guns etc., and yet they are never asked how they were wounded. 

We also met a shy 3-year old who as recent as a week ago underwent surgery. He was reluctant to speak but managed to say that, “no one must know that I am here,” and that he did not like being there in the hospital.  

Neither could be photographed  or their names disclosed because their lives would  be endangered upon their return home.

What rang true to this reporter is the understanding and the level of mistrust of those perceived as your enemy. This is not an unknown sentiment experienced by the African American. Still today Blacks do not trust the American medical system and they live in America.   Too many situations have occurred that legitimize our doubts from Blues icon Bessie being taken to hospital in an ambulance and being  turned away by a ‘whites only’ hospital and then died, to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment a 40year study  that led to victims of the study included numerous men who died of untreated syphilis, 40 wives who contracted the disease, and 19 children born with congenital syphilis to Henrietta Lacks, whose cells advanced scientific research and sparked debate over medical ethics because her family received absolutely nothing from the benefit of Ms. Lacks cells. Her source of source of cells which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create the first known human immortal cell line for medical research. This is now known as the HeLa cell line.

The abuse and mistreatment of Blacks in America continues from Eric Garner to Freddie Gray  as does the mistrust, so I understood better why the Syrians though in the worse of pain and in need of medical treatment more than anything longed to return home to the familiar even though their pain is severe. 

Mistrust in the enemy whether during war or times of peace is an undeniable psychological impact  that can inflict added  injury to the physical wounds. Blacks in America know this all too well. To many Blacks living in America is likened to living in a war zone.

Back to the work at Ziv where empathy and compassion goes a long way in establishing new attitudes and future relations between the Israelis and the Syrians. Some of the victims will grow old and pass on their concept of the good Israelis who came to their aid in time of need possibly changing the way the view their neighbors in the future.

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