Reporter ’s Notebook: Reaching out to wounded soldiers

Citizens had come from all over the land to visit their comrades.

Singer Eti Roman performs with soldiers at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center last week. (photo credit: CARRIE HART)
Singer Eti Roman performs with soldiers at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center last week.
(photo credit: CARRIE HART)
For many years, I have visited wounded soldiers at the rehabilitation center at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. But on Wednesday, July 30, it was a different experience.
This time, I came to see the wounded soldiers while the war in Gaza was still raging.
As I approached the rehabilitation center, I saw IDF soldiers everywhere; visitors and volunteers were burdened down, parcels in hand, and the hospital wards were crowded. Citizens had come from all over the land to visit their comrades.
Teams of musicians and singers were entering the rooms of patients, and some broke out in dancing. There was a festival-like atmosphere – but not for everyone.
A pair of worried parents closed the door to their son’s room, shutting out the sounds in the hallway, as they tried to deal with their emotions privately. They did not want to talk to volunteers, or friends, and especially not to someone from the media. Their son had just been transferred from the main hospital to the rehabilitation center, and he looked seriously wounded.
Another mother pleaded with me to go away, because she didn’t want her son’s grandparents to hear from this article that he had been wounded. Some of their relatives lived abroad and had not heard the news yet. Plus, she was afraid her father would have heart failure when he learned his grandson had been wounded.
Working under the limitations of the IDF Spokesman’s Office and its censorship rules, I was able to ask some family members about the condition of their loved ones. Sometimes a wounded soldier would voluntarily speak up without my prompting.
Gabriel’s story
Gabriel was hospitalized due to a head injury from an explosion, which he thinks was from a Hamas missile. He was wearing a helmet when the rocket exploded, saving his life. He is now suffering from a cracked skull and a damaged cervical bone in his neck; he also has a cheek and jaw fracture, and has been experiencing internal bleeding.
Gabriel’s parents thought he would be in the rehabilitation center for at least a month.
Shani’s story
In the hospital hallway I met Shani, who wanted to talk. His unit had gone to a house in Gaza, searching for tunnels; before they could enter it, a bomb went off. The unit was caught by surprise, having not seen Hamas, with several soldiers killed and several hurt. Shani, for his part, was hit by shrapnel in his shoulder and foot.
He told me he hoped to go back to Gaza when he was healed of his injuries. He said that if he was able to rejoin his unit, he would like to stay on until Israel wins the war.
El-Natan’s story
In his hospital bed, El-Natan had a grim look on his face, but his mother was there and glad to be by his bedside. He had broken his femur and hurt his wrist; after going through surgery, he now had a metal plate in both limbs.
His mother described how El-Natan’s unit was about to enter a house in Gaza, and an explosion had wounded her son and his comrades. For El-Natan, fighting this war with Hamas has been tough.
One wounded soldier from his unit had already been released from the hospital, and went back to Gaza to rejoin the battle. El-Natan said he would also like to return to his unit, if he could. The morale there was high; soldiers wanted to fight, and knew the people of Israel were behind this IDF operation. Many Israelis had come to the hospital to show their appreciation, and say thank-you.
El-Natan’s mother said she was grateful that her son was alive. She admitted, however, that it was a difficult situation and hard to talk about, because it was a miracle – and a lot of soldiers in Gaza didn’t have such miracles.
Ilan Salomon’s story
While in the orthopedic ward, I visited Ilan Salomon – the first civilian injured, at a gas station in Ashdod, during the early days of Operation Protective Edge.
A Hamas rocket hit his car, and it exploded; Salomon had not been able to leave his car and go to a shelter when the Color Red siren went off, as he was disabled.
He had already been wounded in a previous military conflict, and had gone through two knee operations.
This time, a doctor had to realign his arm. He also had shrapnel in his head from the explosion, and had no feeling in one of his legs.
Salomon had already been through a lot of surgeries; he was suffering from pain and said his would be a long recovery.
Katie Belfer’s story
At the hospital were also IDF soldiers wounded in previous military operations. They had come to the rehabilitation center to encourage their fellow soldiers.
Katie Belfer grew up in Livington, N.J. She came to Israel on a tourist visa in August 2010. In 2011, she became an Israeli citizen and joined the IDF. In 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense, Belfer was a medic in the Caracal combat unit. On the way to a mission, the driver lost control of their Hummer. “We did a 180 into a rock wall; they found me underneath the Hummer,” Belfer explained.
A search and rescue team came in a helicopter to retrieve her. Belfer shattered her femur bone and her hip, broke her pelvis in a few places, and had several hairline fractures in her back. She spent a month at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, then did physical therapy at Sheba for four months.
Her mother came to be with her in Israel and the two returned to the US together. She did physical therapy in America, but after five months Belfer longed to be back in Israel. She returned and is now attending Tel Aviv University, and wants to become a doctor.
Belfer recently decided she would help in the war effort. She went to the bar across the street from her house, and brought a friend with her who sings on The Voice. “I told the owners I wanted to do something for the wounded soldiers, because I am a wounded soldier.
We put together a concert and a bake sale; many people came through with cookies and cakes.”
Belfer said that through the proceeds of the bake sale, contacts on Facebook, money the bar donated, and funds contributed through a nonprofit, she was able to raise NIS 10,000 for the soldiers.
When Belfer bakes, she notices an improvement in her emotions and is able to cope with her injuries. “I have post-traumatic stress disorder since my accident. I was experimenting with what helps me with anxiety and stress, and I found that baking is so soothing.”
Now, she hopes to help other soldiers enjoy an easier stay in the hospital. “I was here. I wasn’t in a war, but I was injured. And I know what it is like to be here and be stuck… I know what they’re feeling and I am not going to tell them that everything is going to be OK, because it sucks. But I can tell them, yes, it sucks, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Belfer has promised to bring the hospitalized soldiers entertainment, or take them out for dinner. She just wants to remind them what they are pushing for. “It is not to be in the hospital. It is not an identifier in their life. I hate when people see me and say, ‘It’s the girl that got run over by the tank.’ I don’t want it to be the only thing that people know about me.”
She thinks it is important for the soldiers not to feel too sorry for themselves, and wants to explain this to them: “You will get through it, and you will be that much stronger because you got through it. And it will change your life, but you have to block out the negativity and force yourself to be happy in the beginning, so you can be happy forever.”
Now 24, Belfer admits she is not sure how to go about doing this – but when she finds out, she will let others know.
For Shani, El-Natan, Shai, Gabriel, Salomon and Belfer, their lives have taken them in a direction they did not expect. They, like many other wounded soldiers, have conducted IDF operations to protect the Jewish state from its enemies. Part of the healing process for them is in encouraging one another through the hard times, knowing that a great majority of Israelis have supported the war effort.
The secret of their success, according to one wounded commander? Their resilience and determination not to give up.