Doctor tells of treating Syrian civil war victims in Israeli hospital

Dr. Masad Barhoum spoke with Washington Jewish Week during a weeklong visit to  the East Coast. Photo by Suzanne Pollak
Dr. Masad Barhoum spoke with Washington Jewish Week during a weeklong visit to
the East Coast.
Photo by Suzanne Pollak

Dr. Masad Barhoum is the CEO of the only hospital in Israel currently designated by the Israel Defense Forces to treat Syrians injured in their country’s civil war.

Patients treated at Galilee Medical Center have suffered injuries ranging from bullet wounds to impact wounds received after being thrown in the air after a bomb blast.

“The whole world is talking about how Israel is bad for humanity. But the government of Syria did kill their civilians,” Barhoum said, adding “250,000 to 300,000 killed; 15,000 are children. Millions have no home to come back to.”

He was in Washington this week to speak at the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) conference.

“This is not a civilized war,” added Sara Paperin, development and foreign media hospital representative. The injuries are “very intentional,” she said, adding that a great majority of women they treat have been raped.

While chemical weapons have been used in Syria, the staff has not treated any victims of chemical attacks. No one survives a chlorine attack. That’s why it is used, Paperin said.

What is happening to the people of Syria “really touches your heart,” said Barhoum, “We cry, all of us.” Yet, “the world is blind.”

Since March 2013, 600 Syrians have been treated at the hospital, which is located six miles from the border. Thirty percent of their patients are women and children.

Added Paperin, “It’s so absurd to think that a Syrian mother will bring her children to Israel and say, ‘Treat my child,’ but that’s what we have.”

The injured who walk through the doors have been brought up to believe that the Zionists – they aren’t even referred to as Israelis – are Satan, he said.

When they first enter the hospital, they are “very afraid. They are shocked. They don’t understand what is going on,” Barhoum said. “The Arabs know nothing about Israel” and are surprised to learn that Arabs live and work in Israel.

In the Galilee, half the people are non-Jews, said the father of three who is an Arab Christian.

Soon, the Syrians realize they are being helped by a community of Jews, Christians, Arabs and Druze, working side by side to provide them with proper medical care and even the foods they prefer. They become appreciative and thankful.

“Even if they think Israel is an angel, it’s a drop in the ocean,” Barhoum said, noting that there are “hundreds of thousands, millions of Muslims” compared to the 600 Syrians they have treated. When those patients return to Syria or a refugee camp, “they don’t say they were in Israel.”

The injured all have powerful stories, Paperin said. “Their lives are destroyed. Their farmland is damaged. It’s all out destruction.”

Yet, when they are asked if they would like to live in Israel or stay in Jordan or Turkey, where they are currently housed in refugee camps, they say no.

“The Syrian people I encounter, they are so proud, so incredibly proud. It’s not an Israel thing. It’s not a fear thing” that keeps them from wanting to leave Syria.

“They say [the war] can’t go on much longer and soon the people will prevail and not the regime, and Syria will go back to being their home, and they want to be part of the rebuilding,” Paperin said.

Before Barhoum was to return to his home in Israel, he learned of the nuclear agreement reached with Iran on Tuesday.

While stating he was not a political person, Barhoum expressed hope that Congress will not give its stamp of approval to the agreement. All the agreement does is “solve your problem today” but cause “bigger problems tomorrow.”

Europe was eager to make the agreement to improve its financial situation and return to business as usual with Iran, Barhoum said.

Regardless of how the politics play out, Barhoum’s staff will continue to treat anyone brought to the hospital, he said. The staff also helps throughout the world, he said, adding that he has never ordered a staff member to help when an earthquake or other disaster occurs around the world. Still, the moment such news is announced, his phone begins ringing with staff members requesting to provide help.

These same staff members offer their medical skills in Third World countries during their vacation time. An eye doctor can perform hundreds of cataract operations in a week as long as there is a sanitary place to operate, Barhoum said.

“My Israel tries to do the best for their neighbors, who call us their enemy.”

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