NEWSLETTER APRIL/MAY 2018
HEAVEN AND HELL: LIFE FOR A HOSPITAL IN A CONFLICT ZONE
ZIV HOSPITAL OVERLOOKING THE SEA OF GALILEE.
Living close to hostile borders is the ever–present reality for the medical staff of Ziv Hospital.
Located in the Israeli city of Zefat (Safed), this picturesque, mountain-top community first mentioned in the writings of Josephus more than 2,000 years ago, is close to both Syria and Lebanon.
Festering on these borders are armed groups dedicated to Israel’s destruction, among them the Iranian proxy Hezbollah, ISIS, Al Qaeida, an assortment of Syrian rebel groups, elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and Bashar al-Assad’s Iranian and Russian-backed Syrian army.
Every one of these armed groups is battle–hardened and fanatical. It wouldn’t take much for the conflict to spill over the border, says Professor Anthony Luder who believes that war in 2018 is highly likely.
Prof Luder is not a political scientist, nor is he a military or intelligence expert. He is Director of Pediatrics at Ziv and a Vice-Dean of Clinical Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine at Bar Ilan University’s Galilee campus. It is his business to know what his hospital is likely to face in the foreseeable future and to plan for it. The fate of his patients and staff demands it.
It is hard to reconcile how medical staff at Ziv, Israel’s most northern hospital which can trace its roots back to 1910, cope day-to-day with the knowledge that they are, quite literally, on the front line in any war involving Syrian and Lebanese combatants.
Lebanon is barely 11 kilometres away as the crow flies; Syria is slightly further. In spite of this encroaching reality and the frequent reminders that war is one misstep away, Ziv has become a beacon of hope for thousands of ailing Syrians who might otherwise die if not for the dedication of the doctors and nurses at Ziv and their counterparts in the Israeli army.
Not surprisingly, at least 20% of the Syrians who make their way to the border of Israel and from there to Ziv,are young children. That does much to explain why Prof Luder has welcomed the support of Project Rozana.
Project Rozana first visited Ziv in early 2017 after learning about the hospital’s outreach to the Syrian community. It is committed to funding the life-saving work of the paediatric department, with a special interest on the dire situation facing the Syrian children.
As Prof Luder explains, the arrival of the Syrians began in February, 2013 quite by chance.
“With medical services all but gone in the south west of Syria because of the ongoing civil war, people were desperate for help,” he tells us during a recent visit to Australia.
“The IDF first encountered a small group of Syrians on the border and created a makeshift triage post to attend to their injuries. Shortly after, Ziv and other hospitals in the north and centre of Israel also took on responsibility for these desperate people as we encountered evermore complex medical conditions.”
Since that first trickle of sick and injured Syrians came to the border to seek help from a country that remains officially their bitter enemy, the flow has become a flood. Many thousands now seek help and Ziv has reconfigured its facilities and services to cope with the influx.That has involved a significant financial cost that the hospital is unable to recover from the Government or health funds. Despite its impact on their financial health, the management of Ziv has refused to curtail its outreach.
Prof Luder explained that there were other consequences for the hospital and its patient cohort that were neveranticipated. Some of the Syrians arriving at Ziv have bacterial infections that are no longer seen in Israel. The cause is the lack of medical services because of the war and the fact that many of the country’s medical personnel have been killed or fled the warring regions if not the country itself.
“We need to isolate them from our general population until their condition stabilises, and that involves a significant financial cost to the hospital,” he says. “We also have to buy duplicate equipment, even basic things like stethoscopes and patient monitors, to avoid cross infection.”
“Support from organisations like Project Rozana is critical because we will not turn patients away but we are paying a price for that.”
Over the passage of time and with experience and growing confidence, Ziv is also offering a day patient program to the people of south-west Syria. Every two weeks, busloads of children and adults arrive at Ziv for their medical needs. They are attended to by medical staff and returned to the border at night with medical supplies, clothing, toys for the children and food. Patients that require hospitalisation are assessed and admitted.
As far as possible this is conducted ‘under the radar’ so as not to alert hostile armed Syrian groups who could put these patients’ lives at risk. For that reason, any paperwork generated by hospital staff is in English with no identifying marks.
“We can’t change the dynamic in Syria,” Prof Luder says, “but we can give these people hope and some relief. We don’t prioritise care on the basis of age, religion, gender, financial means or nationality. Our sole criteria are the physical wounds and increasingly the psychological needs of the people.”
“Some believe that Zefat, with its long and proud religious tradition would be indifferent or even hostile to the influx of Syrians, particularly men of so-called ‘fighting age’ who are sworn enemies of Israel. In fact, the majority of the local population has welcomed these people with open arms, providing clothing and toys on an unprecedented scale.
“This is truly heartwarming for us and an affirmation that love and mutual respect will triumph over ignorance and hate.”