According to a report released by the Ministry of Health, the cost to public hospitals in Israel for treating Syrian war casualties comes to over 33 million NIS. The report was published in response to an anonymous request under Israel’s Freedom of Information Act and was subsequently picked up by some of the country’s media outlets. This seemingly astronomical sum does not include costs to the IDF for triage or transportation and only four hospitals share its burden: Ziv in Safed, Western Galilee in Nahariya, Rambam in Haifa and Poriah near Tiberias. Moreover, the sum has certainly only grown since the most updated figures were submitted to the Ministry over the summer.
Not only did this story not claim top headlines, but no major voices in the public discourse are arguing that the patients should have been refused care at Israel’s expense (unlike the debate over treatment of Ismail Haniyeh’s family members). The Syrian patients are innocent civilians most of whom would have died without the care provided in Israeli hospitals, which are legally required to provide it for anyone who comes to them in need of treatment, regardless of race, religion or nationality.
Despite being at war with the Republic of Syria for nearly seven decades, the fact that Israel has, at its own expense, cared for more than 1,500 injured Syrian civilians throughout that country’s brutal civil war is something most Israelis are proud of.
Nevertheless, this care ultimately costs money. These costs do not only include paying the treatment staff, but they also include medical equipment and devices some of which the patients actually keep and bring back with them to Syria. While the Ministry of Health claims that it splits all of these expenses with the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Finance, Maariv has reported that the treating hospitals have yet to receive reimbursements for all of the millions of shekels they have had to pay out of pocket.
We are talking about millions of shekels for hospitals which are already in deficit, underfunded, and located in Israel’s often neglected geographical periphery.
While this unfortunately parallels many other tales of disparity and unmet promises in the Israeli healthcare system, of gaps which are often — for better or worse — bridged by NGOs and private philanthropy rather than the State treasury, it also attests to something somewhat remarkable: Even if such (mis)management of the system is fiscally irresponsible (which it certainly is), the bottom line is that treatment of patients and the sanctity of human life comes first.
Unlike many places in the world where fear of malpractice suits and bloated insurance claims often take precedence over the actual care of human beings, the Israeli healthcare system, with all of its shortcomings, consistently demonstrates that people – whether Israeli citizens, residents or short-term medical refugees from enemy territory – ultimately take precedence over more “practical”, economic, and even political considerations. The all but uncontested central pillar of the Israeli healthcare system is that provision of healthcare and preservation of life are actually at its core, rather than money, private or political interests. Israelis can certainly be proud of this and perhaps even find some solace in it next time they are seeking treatment for a chronic bureaucratic headache.