Bint Jbail's hospitalized soldiers relive fight as Haifa siren wails

Even as they recover in the hospital, soldiers can't escape the arm of Hizbullah.

hospital hit rocket 298  (photo credit: AP)
hospital hit rocket 298
(photo credit: AP)
"How many were killed?" a seriously wounded soldier asked Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'akov Edri, who visited him on Thursday in Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The red-haired young man, who was among the 24 soldiers rushed to the hospital following Wednesday's battle against Hizbullah in Lebanon, lay on a hospital gurney surrounded by monitoring machines. A white bandage was taped to his shoulder and an intravenous line was inserted in his arm. When he was informed that nine had lost their lives he asked for the names, but the hospital staff balked at listing them. They feared the soldier was not strong enough to know even though only minutes prior he had smiled at Edri and told him that he was feeling "great." Other soldiers with light wounds, on a floor below, already had newspapers with pictures of the dead. Sitting with a bandaged arm in the Aroma coffee shop in the hospital, Ram Boneh said simply and sadly of the soldiers lost in battle, "they are my friends." He himself was lucky enough to see the Hizbullah guerrilla throw a grenade at him while he was in an olive grove in Bint Jbail in Lebanon on Wednesday. Ram said he ran away quickly, but not quite fast enough to escape light injuries to his arm and leg. He was able to make it to a nearby structure and was evacuated from there within a number of hours. Only upon reaching Haifa did Ram place a call to his parents to tell them that he was "fine." His mother Heska, a Dutch immigrant, said she had been ignoring the news so she had no idea that her son had been in a fierce battle, even though he called them Saturday to say that he would be without his phone for a while. When Heska heard her son's voice on Wednesday, she thought he had been let out for a visit home. Instead he told her, "I'm in the emergency room." Heska and her husband got in their car and "flew" to Haifa from their Hadera home. Upstairs in the hospital corridor, soldier Yonathan Rut sat in a wheelchair, wrapped in a blanket, and described how the battle raged for more than five hours. "You can't imagine how hard the IDF fought," he said. It was like the heroic stories from the history books, he added. But even as they recovered in the hospital, neither he nor the other soldiers were safe from the arm of Hizbullah. As he spoke, a warning siren rang out alerting Haifa residents of a possible rocket attack. In the parking lot outside people raced for cover. Inside the hospital, patients and staff moved away from the windows. "This is really a hospital under attack," said the medical center's director Rafael Beyar. He described how, two days earlier, the warning siren had gone off as he was performing heart surgery. At one time hospitals were considered to be immune during war, he said, but "that is not true anymore." Bayer knows something about working under fire, he said, because during the 1982 war in Lebanon he was in charge of a medical unit in Beirut. "I wasn't under such an attack as I am in Rambam now," he said. The hospital was built in 1938 by the British, who believed it was a strategic point to place a hospital to treat wounded soldiers, Bayer said. "So treating trauma here goes through the history of the region from 1938 through all of Israel's wars," he said. With its 1,000 beds it is the largest hospital in the north, added Bayer. Since the first missile attack two weeks ago it has treated 339 victims, including civilians and soldiers. Bayer took advantage of Edri's visit to lobby the minister to support the hospital's bid for extra funds for protection and services. It was not a hard sell for Edri who was impressed that the hospital continued to treat its daily dose of patients along side the trauma victims. He called on the government to do more to protect the hospital from possible attack. "It's clear that Hizbullah is targeting this hospital. It's only a miracle that this hospital hasn't been hit," said Edri.