The hospital where Israeli soldiers and children from the Gaza Strip are treated together

The Tel Hashomer hospital, with its ultra-technological machines, 2,000 patients in a city made by halls, is more like a microcosm of Israel during wartime than a hospital. While the smiling faces of soldiers killed in action chase us from the newspapers, and all hope demeans, Tel Hashomer is giving its utmost. Wandering about its rooms we pose the immense question of the reason why, in exchange for Gilad Shalit, 1,500 Palestinian terrorists were released: in Israel, life is priceless. Here come the wounded soldiers from the front: we soon see one who is semiconscious, a pale twenty year old brown skinned young man, on a stretcher shortly after surgery.

To get to his room, the nurses make their way through a wing of irrepressible love directly to the third floor where the soldiers are hospitalized, where girls carry baskets of cookies, where there are children’s drawings with hearts and balloons, where old American ladies offer homemade burekas clearly unsuitable for someone who has just emerged from surgery. The very pale boy is unconscious, doesn’t see; who knows what kind of grenade it was, which splinter of shrapnel hit him; his eyes upturned because of the anaesthetic. Right behind him, almost as beautiful as he is, his mother and his father who holds her tightly by the hand. Another father is guarding the room of his son Roy, 21 years old, and says: “He was injured this morning, he remembered his mother’ telephone number, then we heard his voice, andafterwards we were told that his hand and part of his arm had been crushed. He fainted, four hours of surgery. I know the army well for I too served for many years: we want peace, we do everything to save the life of the people in Gaza, but what can we do if a band of criminals are trying to kill us with missiles, using their homes to hide tunnels, weapons, terrorists?”.

Nathan Mor, 20 years old, can now be pushed in a wheelchair to his waiting mother in the hallway; his mother smiles even if her son has bandaged legs, arms… He already wants to return to his companions. For a person of European culture it is very impressive to see this world made up of young people, students, workers, where the motivation for the defense of their country is equal on the right wing, as it is for the left wing.

“We’re very united, even Israeli and Arabs doctors” – the general manager of the hospital, Professor Ari Shamis says – “This is the only hospital, of the four in the center, where soldiers are transported from the field. Time is an essential factor, from when they are evacuated to the moment they arrive by helicopter. They are victims of explosions or gunfire. And we are ready with transfusions, surgery, assistance to parents… when we phone them, we try in every way to ensure that they hear the voice of their son, even if he is already in the operating room. We have had about 50 of the 123 soldiers wounded in the war, at the moment we have 29. No! – he smiles triumphantly – we have had no losses so far. We are also treating a Palestinian family successfully evacuated from Gaza, for us there is no distinction: we treat whoever comes to us and we treat everybody to the highest level”.

Palestinian doctors, sick Palestinians, children from Gaza are the usual praxis at the Tel Hashomer hospital: with Professor Yoram Neumann we arrive on the third floor of the pediatric oncology ward. Each room, is equipped with a “luminar airflow” which filters the air, everything is isolated and sterilized “more than in U.S. hospitals”, says proud Neumann. A child from Gaza is hospitalized here, with his family members caring for him. Of the 22 children, 18 are from the Strip. The mothers dressed with a veil, usually very young, sit quietly next to their children.

There are those who do chemotherapy, those in need of a bone marrow transplant, those who have finished treatment, but remain in the hospital because they do not have the tools to care for their child at home. In broken English, Nevin’s mother speaks to me about Aid, her one year old child, but I remain at the door so as not to pollute the air. “I’ve been here for four months, I think we’ll have to stay three more”. And her husband? “He is in Gaza, it is very dangerous, but he is fine, I phone him, I miss him”. Nevin says he wants peace, shalom she repeats. But she doesn’t want to give her full name, Hamas could retaliate.

Shalom: everyone wants to keep hope alive. Before he commenced the first of the five operations on his face, arms, legs, Mordechai’s 22 year old father was alerted too by his son’s own voice of the wounds. There is no shadow of anxiety or distress when on the brink of death at his age. You have to save the life of the Country. Professor Zeev Rostein, president of the hospital, says: “The soldiers are now better protected on the head and chest, the wounds are mainly to the limbs. We rehabilitate them and treat them with the best technology. The hospitalized Palestinians are treated equally here. It ‘a great investment: imagine what a shock it is for a family from Gaza to see that we have the same relationship with them as we have with our patients, after every thing that they have been told… I think that this is a great investment for peace. At least, we hope”.

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.