Hundreds of Syrians, including children and the elderly, have been treated at the Israeli Defense Force’s secret field hospital in the Golan Heights.
Last week, the Israeli military allowed television cameras into the facility for the first time, displaying the high-tech field hospital which includes an emergency room, an intensive care unit, an operating theater, a mobile laboratory, a pharmacy, and an x-ray facility.
The hospital treats Syrian patients who cross the border, though some have questioned the sense in the current policy which neglects to ask patients their loyalties in the fight between Assad, al-Qaeda, and other groups. Recent reports have indicated that the vast majority of patients in Israel, including a week-old baby girl, are civilian noncombatants.
Haaretz reports that around 490 Syrian nationals are inpatients at hospitals in northern Israel. Of these, 233 are at the Rebecca Sieff Hospital, Safed; 200 at the Western Galilee Hospital, Nahariya; 38 at Poriya Hospital, Tiberias; and 20 at the Rambam Medical Center, Haifa.
Around 210 people have been treated at the field hospital, which has been inactive for the last few months, but is now thought to be treating around 100 people every 30 days.
Maj. Itay Zoarets, a senior surgeon, said that many Syrians who crossed into Israel were convinced they were entering the realm of “the Great Satan.” He remarked during an interview with Channel 2 News, “They say that before the previous week, before they came, they thought we were the Great Satan, the enemies, and looked for the tails between our legs”.
One rebel fighter being treated at the facility said, “Bashar [al-Assad] didn’t take care of us. Here, in Israel, we are being taken care of. Bashar doesn’t care about us, whereas Israel does. Bashar fires shells at us, he doesn’t care about us at all.”
Another patient, Latif, said, “They taught us about the Zionist enemy, the Zionist oppressor; but when we saw the Zionists, [we realized] they were nothing like what we’d been told. They’re human beings just like us, human, and even more than that.”
While it was reported last November that Israel was helping to treat Syrians crossing the border, the scale of the operation was not previously known.
If their injuries are too serious for the field hospital, patients are moved on to other facilities around the country. After treatment, victims are usually returned to the border and allowed to cross back into Syria. So far only one Syrian citizen has applied for asylum in Israel, though critics argue that the country should do more to ensure refugees’ safety before returning them and seriously investigate those who claim their lives would be at risk upon their return.