With tensions high in Jerusalem and the West Bank, IDF paramedics are on high alert to treat wounded patients, be they Israeli or Palestinian.
“At the end of the day, we are giving medical care to everyone,” said paramedic St.-Sgt. Natan Kamenezky. “We don’t differentiate between Jews and Arabs, Palestinian or Israeli soldiers. We give our all to our patients, whoever they are. It’s part of our training, and when you get to a wounded person, you don’t see who he is. You see him as someone who needs medical treatment. It doesn’t matter in the moment what he did. What matters is how he is, and we have to be fully professional and treat him.”
From the central city of Lod, Kamenezky serves as a paramedic in the southern West Bank near Hebron.
“There are a lot of Jews and Palestinians in this area, and we are responsible for giving medical care to everyone,” he said.
The area around Hebron has been a hotbed of violence for years. From youths throwing rocks at Israeli vehicles to stabbings, vehicular rammings and shooting attacks, the area near the flashpoint city has challenged IDF forces.
In an attempt to thwart terrorist attacks following a spate of deadly assaults in Israeli cities that claimed the lives of 14 Israelis in 17 days, the IDF has been carrying out arrest raids on a daily basis as part of what they’ve dubbed “Operation Break the Wave.”
During the arrests, clashes have often broken out between security forces and Palestinians, leading to the deaths of several rioters. Palestinians have also attempted to stab Israeli soldiers, including one woman attacker who was shot dead in Hebron by Border Police.
The woman, 25-year-old Maha Kazem, slightly wounded a Border Police officer outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs on April 10.
Kamenezky responded to the attack, treating the officer and his mental state.
“The officer was lightly wounded, so here we needed to provide mental care as well during those few moments following the attack,” he said. On Tuesday, he met the officer again, “closing the circle and seeing that treating a person’s mental state is just as important.”
But it’s not only treating those who are wounded in attacks. IDF paramedics are also responsible for providing medical care to people who are injured, for example, in car accidents.
“Eight months ago we arrived at a car accident with five injured Palestinians and we called for a multi-casualty accident,” Kamenezky recalled. “We had to give treatment to everyone, and we did – we transported the critically injured Palestinians to the hospital after giving initial treatment at the scene.”
Sgt. Dor Friedlander and Corporal Moriah Cohen, both medics who serve in the Etzion Brigade, said that they are always at the ready with a finger on the pulse to respond to calls.
“Over the past few weeks there have been more attacks by Palestinians who have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails, and we had to treat them,” Friedlander said, recalling one event when they were called to a scene where a Palestinian youth had thrown a Molotov cocktail at cars on Route 60.
“We try to separate ourselves from the scene and just work,” he said. And while the man in that event was killed by IDF fire, “even if the attacker is alive, we treat them.”
COHEN EXPLAINED that while they have their daily routines of treating sick troops in the mornings and afternoons, most nights they take part in operational activities.
“Whenever we get an alert – be it an accident or an attack – we leave everything and go to the scene,” she said. “And when we get there, we don’t see a Palestinian or an Israeli. We work.”
During one operation, both she and Friedlander were on Route 60 near Beitar when they saw a motorcycle that had been in a serious accident. Friedlander called their commander and explained that they would be treating the individual who was critically injured.
“We understood that we couldn’t remain in the field even though we were in the middle of operational activity, and we made the decision to evacuate him to the hospital,” said Friedlander. “When we got to the hospital we were told that if we hadn’t arrived at the scene, it would have been a totally different outcome.”
St.-Sgt Amir Ziv from Tel Aviv agreed that serving as a paramedic is “one of the more meaningful roles in the army.”
From terrorist attacks to car accidents and helping women give birth, 20-year-old Ziv has seen it all.
He recalled a serious car accident between a truck and a private Palestinian vehicle, where he had to provide care to a five-year-old boy with serious head trauma.
“We had to hold him properly and provide care until we arrived at the hospital,” said Ziv. “We did all we could until we arrived.”
A few weeks later he did the same thing to a one-year-old Israeli girl who had also been seriously injured in a car accident.
“It might not be a terror attack or a car accident, but you give your all,” Ziv said. “You understand that everything you trained for prepares you for the real moment.”
All served in the West Bank during last year’s Operation Guardian of the Walls, in which more than 4,000 rockets and mortars were fired from the Gaza Strip. At the same time, an increase in attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank against soldiers and Israeli civilians added to the work of IDF paramedics and medics.
“We are always preparing for this time of the year,” Friednlander noted.
He explained that while they had prepared for more riots during Operation Guardian of the Walls, this year they are ready for more attacks by lone wolves.
During the 11 days of war in May, Kamenezky served in the Binyamin region. In one event, a team commander was shot in her leg during an operation, and Kamenezky had to provide life-saving treatment before she was evacuated to the hospital.
Ziv also treated Palestinians who had attempted to carry out attacks, and while he understands how some might not be able to separate an attacker from someone who needs medical care, that’s his job.
“I understand that it’s hard to differentiate, that one moment the man is trying to carry out an attack and afterward you have to treat him,” he said. “But it’s a big part of the role that you have to treat a terrorist who tried to attack soldiers or civilians, treat him as a human being and give everything I can, like a soldier who does everything to stop his attack. We don’t look at what happened before, what is going to happen after and everything in the middle.”
Kamenezky called it “the most meaningful role in the army. I wake up every day thinking that I’m saving lives and know that people feel safer that I’m here.”
While there have been times when he’s not been able to save a patient’s life, he said, “stress and pressure is not something that you can give space here in this role. You need to push it aside. You know that you have to do everything to save a life.”