Person of the year in the Syrian crisis: Israeli health care professionals

Delivering vital medical services to 200 Syrians, medical staff in Safed hospitals are the biggest winners of 2013.

Syrian baby born in Israel hospital 370 (photo credit: Hannah Bickel)
Syrian baby born in Israel hospital 370
(photo credit: Hannah Bickel)
This week saw Israel deliver vital medical services to Syrian patient number 200. Last month, a twenty-year-old Syrian refugee gave birth to a boy in the Rebecca Seiff Hospital in Safed, making the baby’s delivery the first Syrian refugee birth in an Israeli medical facility.
The biggest winner of 2013 was not one individual; rather a group of health care professionals in northern Israel from Ziv Medical Center in Safed and Sieff hospital who cared for wounded Syrians.
The endless misery unfolding in Syria has produced few moments of optimism.
A telling example is the pregnancy in Sieff hospital. Mira Eli, the nurse in charge of the maternity delivery ward at Sieff, described the care provided to the pregnant Syrian woman: “We gave her a hug, a shower and food. We gave her postnatal advice. She’s a very young woman who came without her husband or anyone else accompanying her, and it was her first delivery. Our job is to ensure that every new mother remembers her delivery as an unforgettable positive experience, whatever her ethnic, national or religious background.”
The young Syrian mother said, “I don’t feel like I am in an enemy country. The staff are all helping me and worrying about me. My baby, too, is getting wonderful, devoted care.”
Sadly, the Syrian conflict has produced a habituation factor of growing indifference to the refugee crisis. In short, the losers of 2013 have been ordinary Syrians.
President Bashar Assad imposed a war on his population that has resulted in the deaths of over 125,000 people in just under three years.
Major European news organization devoted fair and balanced coverage of Israel delivering medical services to Syrians. There was, however, commentary that attributed a typical wildly conspiratorial thinking to Israel’s role in Syria.
The Der Spiegel online magazine columnist Jakob Augstein, who previously blamed Israel for the post-Arab Spring violence in Libya, Sudan,  and Yemen, quoted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as saying that “Israel has its finger on the trigger” in the Syria conflict, suggesting Israel controls the contours — and outcome — of the Syrian civil war.
In fact, Netanyahu’s correct statement was “Our finger must always be on the pulse. Ours is a responsible finger and if necessary, it will also be on the trigger. We will always know to defend our people and our state against whoever attacks us, tries to attack us or has attacked us.”
Back to the true heroes of 2013. Dr. Oscar Embon, the director of Sieff hospital, told BBC’s Kevin Connolly, "I don't expect them [Syrians] to become lovers of Israel and ambassadors for what we do here, but in the interim I expect they will reflect on what was their experience here and that they will reflect differently on what the regime tells them about Israelis and Syrians being enemies."
Embon neatly captures the potential inherent in the work done by health care professionals in northern Israel. The interplay between Israelis and Syrians is a modest start with a small m and in a nascent phase.
These interactions — and the key role of Israeli health care providers — should be marked as one of the more remarkable stories of 2013.
Benjamin Weinthal reported for the Jerusalem Post on the Syrian refugee crisis on the Turkey-Syria border in late September and early October.