Considering he’s lost 25 members of his extended family to the civil war in Syria and has difficulty walking due to injuries from a car bombing, Fadi (not his real name) looks remarkably relaxed.
He grins warmly as he greets The Jerusalem Post at his bedside at Ziv Medical Center in Safed. His self-assurance may stem from the fact that he knows he is getting good care.
Fadi, 45, arrived at Ziv late last week from southern Syria as the fighting that has taken more than 450,000 lives in six years raged on back home. He is one of about 800 Syrians to be treated at the hospital since February 2013, making Ziv the largest treatment center in Israel for wounded Syrians.
It is Fadi’s second stay in the hospital. He was evacuated here after the car bombing a year ago, when shrapnel was taken out and he had a metal apparatus placed on his leg.
Israelis fundraising for Syrian refugees in December 2016
He points above his ankle.
“The shrapnel went in here.”
He then points to another part of his leg that was also hit.
“I have crutches, but it is very difficult to walk,” he adds. Now, he is pinning his hopes on further treatment of the leg. The care in the hospital, he says, “is excellent. The most perfect care. I hope the leg will be fully treated and healed. If God wills it, I’ll be able to run,” he says.
Fadi’s village has been devastated during the fighting and all of its inhabitants, including his family, displaced. He took refuge with his wife and four children, ages 6 to 18, in another village. Only fighters of the rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), of which Fadi was an armed member until three years ago, remain in his original village.
“There has been complete destruction caused by the regime through artillery, planes, barrel bombs from helicopters and tanks,” he says. After he left the FSA, Fadi was active in local affairs as a member of his village council up until the car bombing. He left the FSA, he says, “because people deviated from the goal to achieve justice for all people.”
Fadi has many cousins in prison. Other cousins are missing; he does not know what happened to them.
The car bombing took place while he was distributing food aid to villagers.
He does not know who carried it out. “It was an enormous, violent surprise,” he says. He lost consciousness, then regained it. The IDF prohibits publication of the details of how he crossed into Israel.
He says the residents of his area yearn for peace. “We want peace and to live in coexistence as one people without wars and to create a popular basis of friendship and brotherliness and to renounce violence,” he says.
“Who wants war?” But for this to happen, the Assad regime must first be removed, he says. “This regime is the enemy of the world. It kills big and small. It doesn’t leave anything. Even animals it kills.”
He concedes the rebel cause has been set back with the regime victory in Aleppo and other recent successes, but holds out hope of victory by Assad’s opponents in the long run.
“All revolutions in the world have golden stages, stages of power and stages of weakness,” he says. “The oppression can’t continue. We may have lost a million martyrs, but we can’t allow them to prevail.”
Despite all the carnage, Fadi is not considering seeking refuge in another country. “If your government wants to remove you,” he asks, “would you agree to leave your country? We drink from its water, it contains our memories, our youth, the plants are the plants we planted. We won’t abandon it. Every oppressor has his end,” he adds.
Fadi says he has found Israel to be very different than the image depicted by the Assad regime. “Assad teaches in order to make people think that the Israeli people is our enemy. But we don’t believe it today. We want peace with Israel and all the peoples around the world.”
He thinks that Israel could “possibly” be doing more to help those Syrians fighting the regime. “If the Israeli air force hit any of the regime sites, that would be welcome,” he says. “We hope the Israeli people will look to what is happening with the Syrian people. The primary enemy of Israel is Bashar Assad,” he adds.
While staying in Ziv, Fadi is under the care of social worker Fares Issa, who started work in the hospital just a few months before the Syrians began being treated there and has handled all the cases of Syrian patients. Issa, 39, from Gush Halav near Safed, says those who arrive at the hospital “are wounded by gunfire, shrapnel, severance of limbs, stepping on mines and car accidents caused by snipers firing at the wheels of cars.
“They have war trauma, a trauma similar to what Holocaust survivors have. They store things, they don’t place their faith in anyone,” Issa says.
“If they ask you to bring them a pen, they can remind you to bring it a hundred times in ten minutes until you actually bring it. They’ll say ‘bring the pen,’ ‘don’t forget it.’ It’s a type of trauma. If you live in a war, you are always worrying that you will be forgotten.
“If you bring them one of something, they want two. Everything: food, clothes, things for hygiene. They want to save it, because they think it won’t be available tomorrow. Sometimes they hide food in the drawer,” he adds.
The first thing Issa does for them is bring them new clothes, because their clothes have invariably been torn to treat the wounds. “I bring them clothes, underwear, shirts, socks, shoes, hygiene materials, shampoo, creams, nail cutters. In the winter, sweaters and hats. Some of them ask for toys for their children. Some make requests for food, shwarma, falafel, pizza. I spoil them. I bring them sunflower seeds, chips, chocolate. But most of them want clothes.”
Some of the cases have left a deep impression on Issa. A year ago two children were admitted to the hospital, one of whom had lost both his legs from shelling. “The child who lost his legs, a 12-year-old, was screaming in the trauma room, ‘Don’t treat me, because we don’t have money to pay for the hospital.’ “I tried to calm him down,” Issa says. “He said they don’t have money. But you want to give them life, life for a child who has lost his legs.
“It was very hard for me and when I went home I still heard his words in my head that he doesn’t have money, that ‘they shouldn’t treat me, that they should let me die.’ It really moved me. My dream was to see him walk on two legs. Three months later, with the help of the hospital and the director, with the very supportive environment, they had given him a lot of things – games, clothes, a tablet so that he could pass his time and enjoy. In the end, I gave him two prosthetic limbs with the help of which he was able to stand up and walk.
“I felt good with myself, because at first I had told myself ‘I have to make sure this boy goes home on two legs.’ I felt good that I had fulfilled this for myself. I had a fatherly connection with that boy, I felt he was my child. He would always hug me and kiss me. I think the most important things in the world are mother, father, brother and sister, and if you can be these things for him then you have extended your own circle of life, because you are not just father to your own child, you are father to this child also.”
Issa says the Syrian patients are always anxious to go home to their families, even though it means going back to the war. They are sent home as soon as they finish their treatment.
“When I prepare them for going home, I provide them with what they need and I conclude with great sadness the treatment and my professional relationship with them,” he says. “I still think about them, but I don’t really have much time to think of them, because when they are released, new people are brought in and I am busy with the new people. But there are times when I think ‘what happened to him?’ ‘What happened to these people?’ ‘Where are they now?’”
Adam Rasgon contributed to this article.