Middle East

Israeli medics risk all to render aid to casualties of Syria's civil war

From the Golan Heights field hospital, IDF doctors can see the explosions and smoke from Syria's four-year-old civil war. (FoxNews.com)

From the Golan Heights field hospital, IDF doctors can see the explosions and smoke from Syria's four-year-old civil war. (FoxNews.com)

From their field hospital in the Golan Heights, Israeli doctors can see Syria’s brutal civil war unfolding below, and the sound of mortar exploding signals each fresh wave of casualties from an area where the only common ground combatants share is a hatred of Jews.

Just inside Israel’s border with Syria, a widely unheralded Israeli humanitarian mission recently marked the treatment of its 2,000th Syrian patient, a number that includes innocent children, old people without the means to join the exodus to Europe and fighters from all sides of the bloody and complex war.

“We understand that an 18-year-old boy in Syria is a fighter,” a senior Israeli Defense Force officer and surgeon at the field hospital near Mount Bental told FoxNews.com. “We don’t know for which rebel group – and when he is so badly injured it is not an issue – but there is no Syrian boy that doesn’t have a weapon at home because the ones [without a weapon] are already dead. When they come to us unconscious they cannot answer.”

"We want to believe that one day when this war will end we will have good neighbors and people will remember that Israelis were the ones who saved their family.”

- IDF surgeon

The wounded are typically dropped off under cover of darkness at the sole crossing along the fenced border, an opening used in peaceful times for trading goods. Syrians bring the injured to the border, where Israeli ambulances pick them up.

On one recent day when a FoxNews.com reporter joined staff from the field hospital as they stared down at the valley below where Israel's green fields end and the parched warzone of Syria begins, a rocket exploded barely a mile away in the town of Quneitra.

“When I see the bombardment, I know it’s going to be a rough night,” said the IDF officer, whose name could not be used due to operational reasons, as gray-white smoke rose in the distance.

Although Israel and Syria have officially honored a ceasefire since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, tension has long existed between what Syrians call “the little devil” and a nation Israel accuses of supporting Islamic terrorists. But the daring operation on Israel’s northeastern border is the only chance some Syrians have for survival.

The impetus for establishing the field hospital came when an IDF battalion commander approached the border crossing some two years ago and encountered the helpless wounded from Syria, where a civil war to unseat dictator Bashar al-Assad mushroomed into a war that now includes ISIS and Al Qaeda offshoot Al Nusra fighting Assad’s army, which is backed by Russia, Iran and longtime enemy of Israel, Hezbollah.

Caught in the crossfire are millions of Syrians, many of whom have fled to Europe and others who are left behind, struggling for survival. Those who are wounded in the fighting, whether innocent or not, further risk their lives by seeking help from Israel.  

“Many wounded people come from this area and the rebels don’t want the patients to be taken to Israel,” the IDF officer said. “If there are people from one of the villages who are injured and want to come to the fence, the Al Nusra Front will tell them, ‘No, you don’t participate with Israel. If you [are destined] to die, then you [will] die.’”

Terrorist fighters back up the warning by firing at both patients being transported to the crossing as well as Israeli medics waiting to receive them. And the danger does not end once inside Israel. Following the massacre by the Al Nusra Front of Druze villagers in northern Syria in June, a small group of Israeli Druze, a religious minority with sizable populations in both countries, incensed at the possibility that Al Nusra combatants could be among those being treated by the IDF, attacked a military ambulance and killed one of two male patients inside.

“My mission was to take them from the fence and bring them to hospital in Israel to be treated - and I failed my mission,” the IDF officer, who was transporting the patient, said. “My commander sees it the same way, but we decided that we won’t let bad people [force us to] stop humanitarian aid.”

Once critically injured patients manage to reach the crossing point they are stabilized and taken to hospital in Israel where they are treated for as long as is necessary in order for them to be well enough to return home. Of the 2,000 patients, none have sought asylum in the nation they were raised to hate.

“One of the doctors in the hospital at Naharia told me that [some children] needed psychiatric help because they left home unconscious and then woke up in Israel,” the IDF officer said. “They soon understand though that this is the only chance they have and they have nothing to lose. We want to believe that one day when this war will end we will have good neighbors and people will remember that Israelis were the ones who saved their family.”

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @paul_alster and visit his website: www.paulalster.com.