Israeli Hospitals Taking Syrian Wounded

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NAHARIYA, Israel -- Syria's two-year civil war has killed more than 110,000 and forced more than 2 million to flee the country. A small number of those badly wounded are also seeking help in Israel.

The Western Galilee Hospital in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya is one of three medical facilities taking in the Syrian wounded.

When CBN News visited the hospital, one young Syrian man lay unconscious, with a neck brace and connected to life support. He was brought to the hospital after a blast caused massive head wounds.

He's one of about 150 who have mysteriously crossed the Syrian border into enemy territory for life-saving medical treatment.

"Love your enemies. Begin from here," said Dr. Masad Barhoum, director general of the Western Galilee Hospital.

"We have tragedy in Syria," Barhoum told CBN News. "This is a huge tragedy. And hundreds of thousands of people -- they're not only dead -- they have no houses; they are injured; they suffer from cold, from pain, and who takes care [of] them?"

Barhoum is a Christian Arab who says his goal is to serve the community and those who need help. His hospital near the Lebanese border serves an area where 600,000 Israelis live -- about half of them Jewish and the other half Muslim and Christian Arabs, as well as others.

It's the only hospital in the far north with a neurosurgery unit. They've taken in about 70 Syrians.

"I still remember the first one who came to our hospital," Barhoum told CBN News. "Two Syrians -- one of them died in the trauma room. [There] was bullet in his head and we were not able to help him. The other one [had] major injury in his head from a blast trauma and after 10 days he was walking."

The 54-mile border between Israel and Syria stretches from Mt. Hermon through the Golan Heights.

How did the wounded cross? Only the Israeli Army knows and they're not telling. The hospital simply receives a call from the Army that they're bringing wounded Syrians. And the staff goes on alert to receive the patients.

"It's typical war injuries, including shrapnel wounds, including bullets, including blast injuries and all the other things you can think about on the battlefield," Dr. Zeev Zonis said. "It's the most serious patients that arrive here."

Current Syrian patients were afraid to go on camera.

Most are men, but eight children have also been helped here, including one 3-year-old girl who was brought alone and unconscious with severe burns to her face.

"After a day or so that we could improve her injuries we could wake her up," Zonis told CBN News. "And she has nobody around, so she was just crying because she was so afraid and alone and we tried to help her."

One 15-year-old girl with a beautiful face arrived at the hospital with a bullet in her spine. Her mother, who is with her at the hospital, was afraid to be interviewed on camera, even with the promise of hiding her identity.

But she told CBN News after a gun battle outside their home, her daughter went to the door to see if all was quiet. When she turned around to re-enter the house, a sniper shot her in the back.

When asked if the mother wasn't afraid to come to Israel, she said from the moment her daughter was injured she only had one thought and that was that her daughter would not be paralyzed.

Sadly her daughter is paralyzed from the waist down. The girl refused to talk. A tear rolled down her face.

Doctors say the Syrians probably would have died without the Israeli care. And the trauma goes beyond their physical wounds.

"I think the point is not only the actual wounds they have, but the tragedy they go through and the emotional problems they face when they arrive," Zonis said.

"They are so afraid, so troubled from waking up in an enemy place, a place they don't know the language," he explained.

"We try not to ask them, 'what you do' and 'where you come from' because it's not an investigation," Barhoum said. "But [from] the first they say, 'I want to go back,' always, always from the first day until the end day, [they say] 'I want to go back to my home.'"

Barhoum says the Syrians are very polite and don't expect much, but they are very afraid.

"They don't say, 'look we want to stay in Israel,' or 'we love Israel more than Syria,'" he said. "They are afraid that somebody is going to tell the regime in Syria that they are here."

About half the hospital staff speaks Arabic, and Barhoum says that and the love they're shown helps the Syrians calm down.

"You can talk with them with their language and you can see a little smile in the face of a child. It makes me crazy," Barhoum said with tears in his eyes.

"So you can make them smile. It's not easy, they are afraid, but just to come and say 'Be calm. I love you; I'm going to help you.' And they have [a] small smile," Barhoum said. "They're making my day. They make the days of all my staff here every day."

And when a patient is well enough, the Israeli army takes him back to the border. Even though the number is small, Barhoum says he and his staff are grateful for the opportunity to help the suffering Syrians.

*Originally aired September 2013.

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Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

CBN News Middle East Bureau

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