More Syrian children’s lives saved by Israel over Christmas (& Buffett donates $10m)

December 29, 2013

A 20-year-old Syrian refugee holds her newborn baby after giving birth in Israel. Israeli nurse Mira Eli, pictured left with glasses, said “We gave her a hug, a shower and food – she had barely been able to eat or clean herself for weeks – as well as postnatal advice. She’s a very young woman who came without her husband or anyone accompanying her, and it was her first delivery.”



1. While Israeli hospitals treat more Syrian children, the IDF sends water and baby food to besieged Syrian villages
2. Syrian, Palestinian children treated in Tel Aviv area too
3. Warren Buffett donates $10m to Haifa hospital
4. “Good by stealth” (By Tom Gross, Standpoint magazine, December 2013)
5. “The victims of Syria’s war finding care in Israel” (By Kevin Connolly, BBC News)

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


While a church in London’s Piccadilly and a TV station in Romania were among those who “celebrated” Christmas with vicious anti-Semitic attacks on Israel, badly wounded Syrian refugees with life-threatening injuries continued to be ferried into Israel over the Christmas period.

The 200th wounded Syrian this year to be treated at the Ziv Medical Center in Safed was smuggled into Israel on Monday night. The 21-year-old, in serious condition with gunshot wounds to his hip and stomach, was operated on overnight and remains in intensive care.

The Ziv Medical Center – one of several hospitals in Israel treating wounded Syrians – has treated another 10 Syrians, including four children, in the last week alone.

The cost of treating victims of the Syrian civil war, which has amounted to many millions of dollars, has been shared by the Israeli Health, Defense and Finance ministries, with help from a number of Jewish charities.

Below I attach an article of mine on Israeli help for Syrians, from the December edition of the British magazine Standpoint. (It went to press in mid-November.)

Since it was written, the BBC has, finally, amidst a daily flurry of anti-Israel reports on its world service radio, television and website, run a positive report on Israeli help for Syrians. I attach the BBC text and a link to their video after the Standpoint article.

The BBC does not mention the help given by Israelis to Syrian refugees inside Jordan and Syria itself. Or the fact the Israeli army is continuing to send water and baby food to besieged Syrian villages. The IDF has also been using its groundbreaking freeze-dried plasma innovation in its field hospitals – to save wounded Syrians from blood loss.

Also not mentioned by the BBC is that Israel’s policy is in marked contrast to that of many European and Arab governments, which have turned away Syrian refugees.

One rare European Union country that has agreed to allow in wounded Syrians for treatment is Bulgaria – but even in Bulgaria it is American and Canadian Jewish charities that are helping to pay for food and medication for the Syrians, rather than much wealthier European charities – some of which, such as the major British charity War on Want, spend a lot of money they raise running campaigns defaming Israel instead.



Syrians are also continuing to be treated in central Israel too. Last week, for example, a four-year-old Syrian refugee child, known only by his first name, Mahmoud, received life-saving heart surgery at the Pediatric Cardiology Unit at Sheba Medical Center, in Tel Hashomer near Tel Aviv. He was born with a rare, life-threatening heart defect – his right and left ventricles were reversed – and had not been expected to live for much longer.

During the eight-hour operation, a state-of-the-art pacemaker was implanted with a battery that will last much longer than other pacemakers, since no one knows when Mahmoud will be able to receive regular follow-up medical treatment. In this case, Mahmoud was brought to Israel with his father, who told the Israeli paper Israel Hayom:

“All our lives, we were taught by our government to love one person and hate another. Now the one we learned to love is trying to kill us, and the one that is supposed to be my enemy has saved my son’s life.”

Meanwhile at nearby Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, another four year-old Arab child, this time from Hebron, Muath Abu Danash, was also given life-saving heart surgery last week.

The Times of Israel noted that in the room alongside Muath were five other children: from Gaza, Hebron, Ghana, Tanzania and Israel.



U.S. billionaire Warren Buffet last weekend donated $10 million to Rambam Hospital in Haifa. The contribution was announced at an event just before Christmas to celebrate 75 years since the hospital’s establishment.

Buffet says he has fantastic admiration for Israeli hospitals, which are some of the best in the world, and have developed pioneering medication to help people worldwide.

Buffet has expressed enormous confidence in Israeli technological development too. As I noted in a dispatch on this list in May 2006, Buffett, then the world’s second richest man, bought 80 percent of Iscar, an Israeli company that manufactures metalworking tools. This was Buffett’s first large-scale non-American investment, and his third-largest investment anywhere.


Tom Gross adds:

When the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbullah rained down missiles on northern Israel from Lebanon seven years ago, and Hizbullah targets included Rambam Hospital, doctors treated patients under fear of attack.

As a result, Rambam has this year finished the completion of a wartime operating room spread out over three stories below ground, which will be used should bombs fall on Haifa again. Spanning 645,000 square feet, the three stories will house 2,000 medical stations, making it one of the largest underground hospitals in the world.


Among recent related dispatches:

* Baby born in IDF field hospital in Philippines named ‘Israel’ (& UN interpreter slips up, tells truth) (November 17, 2013)

* First ever Syrian woman gives birth in Israeli hospital (& a giant new Jesus statue rises in Syria) (November 3, 2013)

* Israel’s secret doctors (& Disabled Gaza toddler lives at Israeli hospital) (September 18, 2013)

* Video dispatch 18: Syrian refugees: “May God bless Israel” (September 2, 2013)

(You can see these and other items that are not in these dispatches if you "like" this page:



Good By Stealth
By Tom Gross
Standpoint magazine (London)
December 2013

The media is full of stereotypes and mistakes about many issues. Yet years of experience as a foreign correspondent has led me to the conclusion that the prejudices and biases against the state of Israel are in a league of their own. There are notable exceptions, of course, but for some news outlets Israel can do no right.

Which is one reason why one of the more remarkable stories coming out of the Middle East over the last two and a half years has been largely overlooked: the bravery of Israeli doctors and civilians who have gone into war-ravaged neighbouring Syria to treat the injured, and feed and clothe refugees from all ethnic backgrounds.

Thousands of Syrian doctors have fled the country and hundreds have been killed as the Assad regime continues to bomb medical clinics as a means of terrorising population groups who oppose his government. Where they can, Israeli medics have gone in to help those few Syrian doctors still working. Other Israelis have defied the Jordanian authorities by helping Syrian refugees in that country.

Although they work independently of the Israeli government, the Israeli army has quietly supported their humanitarian actions, sometimes helping to ferry them across the border. In addition to setting up field hospitals, they have brought food. The Economist pointed out in September that in Dera alone, the southern city where the anti-Assad uprising began, Israelis have distributed 300,000 meals to Syrians, as well as medication, mobile phones and chemical protection suits.

The more severely injured Syrians – particularly children – have been brought to Israel for specialised treatment, all at the expense of the Israeli government and Jewish charities. Syrians are taking a risk even entering Israel: the Syrian government makes it a crime for its citizens to go there.

One or two American news outlets have reported on the medical treatment in Israel (though not on the help being given in Syria and Jordan). In July, Jim Clancy of CNN went to the Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed (named after a member of the founding family of Marks & Spencer), where he noted that half of all intensive care beds were occupied by Syrian civilians wounded during the previous week alone.

In May, the New York Times reported from Nahariya Hospital in northern Israel on a three-year-old girl being given skin grafts for horrific facial injuries she sustained during a government missile attack in Syria. In the next bed, the newspaper noted, a girl, aged 12, lay in a deep sleep, having been operated on for a severe stomach wound and a hole in her back. Next to her lay another Syrian girl, 13, recovering from over a month of operations for injuries to her face, arm and leg. In Wolfson Medical Center near Tel Aviv, the life of a four-year-old Syrian girl was saved by open-heart surgery. In another hospital, a Syrian mother gave birth last month, the first Syrian born in Israel.

Although there has been hardly any coverage in British media, one Palestinian website noted: “While the Arab countries make empty promises, the Israelis have crossed the border to provide assistance to the refugees, risking their lives without a word of thank you.”



You can watch the BBC video here and the text of their online report is below:

The victims of Syria’s war finding care in Israel
By Kevin Connolly
BBC Middle East correspondent, Tzfat, northern Israel
25 November 2013

In the maternity unit at the Sieff Hospital in the Israeli city of Tzfat, the safe arrival of every baby feels like a minor miracle.

But on the day we visited, there was one little boy among the row of newborns who will one day have quite a story to tell. That is, if his parents ever decide to tell him.

The child’s name has to be withheld: publishing any kind of information which could identify him might put him in danger when he goes back to his home village – which is in Syria.

His mother’s name or any personal information that might identify her can’t be published either. She looked tired but happy when we met her, quick to praise the kindness of the Israeli medical staff who had treated her.

She was already in labour when she went to her local clinic in her home village in Syria – but they told her that they could not treat her.

Her worried husband knew that it was possible to get her treated in Israel – and so the couple began a dangerous race to the frontier in a country at war and a desperate race against time.

She had to be taken to a point inside Syria from where she could be seen by Israeli soldiers patrolling the fence that marks the old ceasefire line between the two countries that dates back decades.

A military ambulance then took her to hospital – she made it on time.

The humanitarian chain that got the woman from her home village under heavy shellfire to the boundary fence and then to hospital links guides in Syria to Israeli Army paramedics on the frontier, to the doctors and nurses in Tzfat.

For the woman, every step in the process worked perfectly, perhaps because it has become a well-trodden path.

She was the 177th person to make the journey to the emergency room in what has become one of the most extraordinary subplots of Syria’s agonising civil war.

Syria and Israel regard each other as enemies. A state of war has existed between them for decades.

And yet, since the first patients arrived around nine months ago, the informal system of patient transfer has become so well-established that some patients have even arrived with letters of referral written by doctors in Syria for their Israeli counterparts.

Dr Oscar Embon, the director of the Sieff Hospital, says simply: “Some beautiful relationships have started between the staff at the hospital and the people that we treat. Most of them express their gratitude and their wish for peace between the two countries.”

The Israelis say they are treating everyone who needs treatment. That often means women and children but it is possible that among the young men who have been patched up, there may well be fighters loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or jihadist rebels who in other circumstances would attack Israeli targets if they could.

Dr Embon says that policy of not discriminating between the sick and the hurt is entirely consistent with what he sees as the values of his country and the ethics of his profession.

He told me: “I don’t expect them 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.”

Israel’s help for the Syrian patients is politically interesting, of course – this is the Middle East, after all.

But even if you only spend a few hours in the hospital at Tzfat, you get a sense that there are powerful human dramas being played out in the treatment room.

Most of the patients, though, won’t talk about what they have been through – they are too frightened about what would happen to them back in Syria if it emerged they had been to Israel.

At the centre of the system is an Israeli Arab social worker who asked us to refer to him only by his first name, Faris.

He calms the fears of disoriented patients who are shocked to find themselves suddenly being treated in an enemy state.

He organises charity collections to provide them with toiletries and toothbrushes.

And he listens to their stories.

The job Faris does is tough at the best of times – imagine having to explain to a young boy blinded in an explosion that he will never see again – but with the Syrian patients, it feels even more difficult because they go home as soon as they have been treated.

And once they cross back onto the Syrian side of the boundary fence, all contact with them will be lost between the old enmities of the Middle East and the dangerous chaos of civil war.

Faris acknowledges that the regular partings from men, women and children he has helped through dark moments are tough for him as well as for them.

He looks tired when we meet but says he sleeps well knowing that he has been given a chance to do some good.

“When people come here for two months,” he told me, “a relationship starts between you and them and becomes stronger. Then they go home and the sad thing is you can’t be in contact with them because their villages are ‘enemy’ villages.”

Such is the grinding misery of Syria’s civil war, though – and the growing problems in the healthcare system there – that it seems every week will bring Faris and the medical staff at the hospital new patients and new problems.

The Syrians who go home cannot be too open about the help they have received in Israel – merely admitting having been here could put them in danger.

But somehow word is spreading and it seems likely that as long as the civil war goes on, the tide of injured seeking help will continue to rise.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.