The Second Lebanon War of 2006 put our lives on hold for 33 days when our banks, public institutions and grocery stores struggled to stay open, struggled to meet the needs of the citizens of the region, struggled for normality. Those 33 days did not pass quietly in Israel’s north. Some 4,500 rockets fired by Hezbollah rained down throughout our region, targeting us as we went to and from work and took care of our children.
For institutions, like mine, the war marked an unprecedented coming together of individuals from all backgrounds and faiths to continue providing resilient care and services to our community. Galilee Medical Center (GMC) is the largest regional hospital in northern Israel, just six miles south of the Lebanese border. We mark the ten years since the Second Lebanon War with a sense of resilience and impending dread.
During those 33 days, our hospital switched to emergency protocols and key departments moved to bunkers to continue providing care. Underground, we cared for the many sick and injured, providing safe cover for staff and hundreds of their children. We lived under constant sirens and explosions, constant fear and anxiety, as 808 rockets exploded within the 1 mile radius of our hospital.
In 2006, GMC was the sole hospital protected underground facilities, thanks to the foresight of my dear predecessor Prof. Shasha. Our surgical wards survived direct Katyusha rocket fire while we worked underground day and night. Our unfortunate legacy is that the lessons learned under fire have become some of the most important aspects we teach other hospitals and organizations with the looming reality that another war with Hezbollah is not simply a matter of “if,” but most certainly of “when.”
In those 10 years we have become more resilient. We built above and below ground, fortifying all structures. Still, when our community looks to the north, in clear sight from our hospital windows sits a still looming threat. The 600,000 Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and Circassi residents in northern Israel who depend on GMC – the sole area trauma hospital — have already begun to hear a rise in the rhetoric of war.
Top defense experts share their analyses and estimates: instead of the 2,500 rockets that exploded in our area in 33 days, any future conflict could shower us with between 1,500-2,500 rockets every single day for three months straight. We prepare ourselves as best as possible for the impending horrible reality of another war being waged against us.
Being a community hospital made up of staff and volunteers from this very region, we make our contingency plans to account for the worst days which most certainly lay ahead. For the past three years GMC received the most Syrians wounded in their terrible civil war who arrived in Israel for medical treatment. We have become well trained in some of the most gruesome and horrific war injuries in modern conflict.
As private citizens and humble civil servants we carefully stock our home or neighborhood bomb shelters and pray silently that another summer passes without incident for the sake of our families and neighbors.
This is our reality, one which is almost unimaginable and at the same time is a commonplace reality now, not just for residents along Israel’s borders, but for every citizen of Israel. Any future conflict will surely not be conducted on a single front as all of Israel is now under rocket threat. This is quite simply the reality we must endure and prepare for if we cannot find a better way to break this cycle where the spasm of war and lulls of interim quiet have become then norm; we are backed into a corner where the loss of life is both horrendous and acceptable and the voices of the people who demand an end to all wars are not heard over the clamoring voices of fanaticism and self-righteousness.
Dr. Masad Barhoum is the CEO of the Galilee Medical Center, serving 600,000 Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze of his community. For the past four years he has overseen life-saving treatment of over 1,200 wounded Syrians, a third of them women and children under the age of 18. “Those we’ve treated are but a drop in the ocean of this immense human tragedy – but we strive to save every life that we are able.”