Syrian refugee children pose as they play near their families' residence at Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, January 30, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was making his triumphant diplomatic tour of Australia last week, scoring important points for Israel’s well-earned reputation as a humanitarian democracy, the Knesset Finance Committee revealed that several ministries were doing just the opposite.
On Thursday, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman told the panel that he would be forced to order the Western Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya to stop treating wounded Syrian civilians unless the government does not pay the hospital some NIS 300 million it owes for their care. For the past four years of the Syrian civil war, the hospital has treated some 1,550 Syrian civilians – a unique phenomenon that Israel has been justly proud of pointing out to the world.
While it would be inconceivable for an Arab enemy state to treat Israelis thusly, caring for strangers is a core principle of the Jewish state, one that is constantly associated with Israel’s readiness to assist countries all over the world in times of natural disaster. It is a value that we cherish and that has earned us a reputation for uncommon decency.
Unfortunately, with a government whose right hands are too often oblivious to what its left hands are doing, Israel’s humanitarian efforts are being jeopardized by this inexcusable withholding of funds.
The Finance Committee let it be known that the Defense, Finance and Health ministries are supposed to split the Nahariya hospital’s costs equally, but most of this debt is still owed by Defense and Finance. The Health Ministry owes a small amount, but the bulk of the outstanding government debt is being ignored by the other two ministries while Israel’s reputation for kindness is being dealt a self-inflicted wound.
Dr. Masad Barhoom, director of Western Galilee Medical Center, told The Jerusalem Post that “we were asked by the government to carry out this medical task, and we have done it. We have treated and saved the lives of 1,500 babies, children, men and women.”
Such experience has, ironically, paid off: “We are among the leading medical centers in the world with such expertise, and this benefits Israel,” Barhoom noted.
The average cost of treating Syrian patients is calculated at NIS 10,321 per day, while the government reimburses the hospital by only NIS 1,300. The hospital is located some 10 km. from the Lebanese border, which has enabled it to treat Lebanese civilians as well.
Israel’s humanitarian commitments are regularly demonstrated by the country’s hospitals and are rightfully a source of national pride. One remarkable example is a Syrian schoolgirl who went back to her war-torn country after being cured of blood disease at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center. She is just one of the 140 Syrian civilians – men, women and children – that Rambam has treated over the past three years of civil war there.
The rare light of compassion that Israeli doctors and nurses have shown without hesitation to helpless victims of war is now being eclipsed by the unthinking bureaucratic buck passing – indeed, shekel passing – of its cabinet ministers.
In a world that daily besmirches Israel with the false accusations of the BDS movement, it is time for our ministers to refute such immoral attempts at delegitimization by simply paying the government’s hospital bills. No ministry of so-called public diplomacy could make this point better than the mother of that Syrian girl as she thanked Rambam’s doctors and nurses.
“I would lie if I said that I expected the kind of humanity I discovered here. I am grateful for your care and sensitivity; may God protect you. And we will always remember what you did for us.”
While ministers delay funding for Nahariya’s hospital, some Israelis have organized on their own to help another hospital in much the same situation. Safed’s Ziv Medical Center is collecting donations for treating wounded Syrian civilians and has already provided medical care to more than 700, including women and children.
It is intolerable for the government to risk further damaging Israel’s humanitarian reputation by squabbling over paying its hospital bill to Nahariya.