A Syrian man recovering in an Israeli hospital said that while the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is his enemy, the Syrian people “want peace with Israel,” The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday.
Fadi, 45, arrived last week at Ziv Medical Center in Safed, which has treated some 800 wounded Syrians since February 2013. A former member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which fights against the Assad regime, Fadi sustained a shrapnel wound during a car bombing last year while distributing food to villagers. At the time, he came to seek treatment at Ziv and had a metal apparatus placed on his leg.
He has since returned to receive further treatment in the Israeli hospital, which he called “excellent. The most perfect care. I hope the leg will be fully treated and healed. If God wills it, I’ll be able to run.”
Fadi, his wife, and their four children were forced to leave their home village after it was devastated during the Syrian conflict, which has claimed more than 450,000 lives since 2011. “There has been complete destruction caused by the regime through artillery, planes, barrel bombs from helicopters and tanks,” he said.
He left the FSA three years ago “because people deviated from the goal to achieve justice for all people,” but said that he remained active in his local village council until the car bombing.
Fadi argued that Assad must be removed from power so that Syrians can have peace and “live in coexistence as one people without wars and to create a popular basis of friendship and brotherliness and to renounce violence.”
“This regime is the enemy of the world. It kills big and small. It doesn’t leave anything. Even animals it kills,” he added.
Regarding coexistence, he said that the Assad regime indoctrinates people to “think that the Israeli people is our enemy. But we don’t believe it today. We want peace with Israel and all the peoples around the world.”
Despite losing 25 members of his extended family in the conflict and witnessing widespread destruction, Fadi said that he wishes to remain in Syria. “If your government wants to remove you, would you agree to leave your country?” he asked. “We drink from its water, it contains our memories, our youth, the plants are the plants we planted. We won’t abandon it. Every oppressor has his end.”
While the recent fall of Aleppo was a blow to anti-Assad forces, Fadi stressed that revolutions go through “stages of power and stages of weakness.”
Like all wounded Syrians in Ziv Hospital, Fadi’s case has been handled by Fares Issa, a social worker who joined the medical center only months before it started accepting Syrian patients.
Issa, 39, has observed that the Syrians are heavily traumatized by war and “don’t place their faith in anyone.”
“If they ask you to bring them a pen, they can remind you to bring it a hundred times in ten minutes until you actually bring it. They’ll say ‘bring the pen,’ ‘don’t forget it.’ It’s a type of trauma. If you live in a war, you are always worrying that you will be forgotten,” he said.
“If you bring them one of something, they want two. Everything: food, clothes, things for hygiene. They want to save it, because they think it won’t be available tomorrow. Sometimes they hide food in the drawer,” he added.
The first thing that Issa brings the patients is new clothes, as theirs are often torn by doctors rushing to treat their wounds.
“I bring them clothes, underwear, shirts, socks, shoes, hygiene materials, shampoo, creams, nail cutters. In the winter, sweaters and hats. Some of them ask for toys for their children. Some make requests for food, shwarma, falafel, pizza. I spoil them. I bring them sunflower seeds, chips, chocolate. But most of them want clothes,” he said.
The patients, in turn, make a lasting impression on Issa. He specifically recounted an incident from last year with a young Syrian patient who lost both his legs from shelling. “The child who lost his legs, a 12-year-old, was screaming in the trauma room, ‘Don’t treat me, because we don’t have money to pay for the hospital.’ I tried to calm him down,” Issa said. “He said they don’t have money. But you want to give them life, life for a child who has lost his legs.”
“It was very hard for me and when I went home I still heard his words in my head that he doesn’t have money, that ‘they shouldn’t treat me, that they should let me die.’ It really moved me. My dream was to see him walk on two legs. Three months later, with the help of the hospital and the director, with the very supportive environment, they had given him a lot of things – games, clothes, a tablet so that he could pass his time and enjoy. In the end, I gave him two prosthetic limbs with the help of which he was able to stand up and walk,” Issa recalled.
Like Fadi, all Syrian patients are anxious to return home to their families, despite the war, Issa added. “I still think about them, but I don’t really have much time to think of them, because when they are released, new people are brought in and I am busy with the new people. But there are times when I think ‘what happened to him?’ ‘What happened to these people?’ ‘Where are they now?’”
Over 2,500 Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals since 2013, even though the two countries have been in a state of war since Israel’s founding. Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai documented one of the risky missions the IDF undertook to rescue an injured Syrian fighter in 2015. Pregnant women sometimes travel to the border in order to deliver their babies in Israel, and Israeli doctors have treated young Syrian patients with cutting-edge procedures that allowed them to walk again.
Aside from the humanitarian aspect to saving those wounded in the war, cooperation with rebel groups near Israel’s border also affords Israel a measure of protection, as Jonathan Spyer described in How Israel Navigated Through the Hurricane of the Syrian Civil War, which was published in the March 2016 issue of The Tower Magazine.
It is an open secret in Israel that the country maintains relations with Sunni rebel elements in the area adjoining the border in Quneitra Province. The reason is to ensure that they remain the dominant force on the border, rather than elements aligned with the Assad regime, Iran, or the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. The Israeli policy of providing medical aid to Syrian civilians and wounded rebel fighters from this area is clearly an aspect of this policy (in addition to purely humanitarian considerations). The precise nature of the assistance afforded the rebels is not known. No evidence, however, has emerged of direct military aid. Given the great efforts to which Israel goes in order to ensure a clear intelligence “picture” of events in southwest Syria, it may be assumed that intelligence sharing probably forms part of the relationship.
The rebels located close to the border are a mixed bunch. In the southern corner is Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk, a rebel group of long standing which is now clearly affiliated with the Islamic State. Israel has closely followed the movement of this organization in the direction of IS and is concerned about it. The relations between Israel and the group are hostile, though they have not yet resulted in open violence. There are Israeli concerns that a second rebel group in the area, the Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya organization, may also be moving closer to the Islamic State.
According to informed sources, Israeli contacts with rebel elements close to the border are not limited to the Western-supported rebel coalition called the Southern Front. They also include elements sympathetic to and affiliated with Sunni Islamist groups. Israeli sources note that the rebellion is a fragmented, localized phenomenon. As such, it has been possible to foster small-scale cooperation independent of the broader ideological sympathies of these groups. As a result, one former senior security official described the area east of Quneitra Crossing as a “virtual security zone” for Israel.
[Photo: Ziv Medical Center ]