When the Vinograd Committee and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus complete their reports and reveal the woeful state of preparedness in the government, the army and most local authorities for last summer's war against Hizbullah, they will find at least one shining exception.
On July 12, the day the war began, the Western Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya had already moved its patients underground and out of danger.
The hospital, led by its director, Prof. Shaul M. Shasha, had been preparing for war for the past 10 years. "The hospital has always been a confrontation line hospital," Shasha told The Jerusalem Post earlier this week. "It is located 10 kilometers from the border and has always been in rocket range. Therefore, we have always tried to see how we could operate under fire."
During those 10 years, including long after Israeli troops withdrew from the south Lebanese security zone and most of us tried to forget about the Hizbullah threat, Shasha and his staff prepared the hospital for the possibility of another war.
"First of all," he recalled, "we prepared work directives for an emergency situation which took into account the direction from which the Katyushas would strike. Second, we prepared protected spaces in the hospital. All of the new construction in that period took into account the possibility of an attack from Lebanese territory. Third, we drilled our staff day and night in the emergency procedures."
When war did come, the hospital was ready. As fate would have it, Shasha flew to Munich on July 12. Half an hour after landing in Germany, he received a phone call updating him on the fact that two Israeli soldiers had been kidnapped. Shasha asked whether he should take the next plane back, but was advised to wait a day.
In the meantime, the war erupted and Shasha's deputy Dr. Moshe Daniel decided to put the emergency regulations into operation. Within one hour, half an hour less than the prescribed time, every patient in the hospital had been transferred to a protected space.
The hospital was able to accommodate 600 patients in well-protected wards, some of which are underground. All wards are safe from conventional weapons and some are also protected from chemical and bacteriological warfare.
During these years, the hospital has also built eight state-of-the-art operation rooms, all of which are protected from conventional, chemical and bacteriological weapons.
"We developed a reputation for being nuts," said Shasha. "But for us, it paid off fantastically."
Although many Katyushas fell around the hospital complex during the war, only one actually hit a building, on Friday, July 28 at 4:30 p.m. That rocket, however, destroyed two patients' rooms in the ophthalmology ward and caused heavy damage to the entire floor. "Had the rooms been occupied, at least six patients would likely have been killed," said Shasha.
Now, more than a month after the end of the fighting, Shasha is busy supervising hospital repairs and preparing for the future. The hospital has conducted inquiries on a departmental and institutional level to determine the strong and weak points of the wartime strategy. They are currently renovating the ophthalmology ward, which is a world leader in cornea transplants, and they are also repainting the underground wards, improving the air conditioning system and looking for more protected spaces to increase capacity.
Shasha insisted that the credit for the hospital's success be distributed fairly. The Health Ministry contributed advice and money for the hospital construction and the hospital executive helped in the planning. Above all, said Shasha, credit should go to the hospital management and staff of 2,000. During the month of fighting, only 12 people failed to show up for work. All the rest had to face the dangers of driving home and back to work at all hours of the day and night on roads that were always exposed to the rockets.
The hospital staff, he said, includes Jews, Arabs, Druse, Muslims and others. "The moment they pass the hospital gate, the arguments stop, there is no left, no right, no Jews and no Arabs. There was only one team. And that was inspiring."
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