This article was published by the Jerusalem Post on August 5th 2020
Author: Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
Photo Credit: Roni Albert
Israel offers medical aid to Lebanon, response is silence
“It’s a shame that people will die for no reason.”
The heads of several Israeli hospitals have reached out to Lebanese officials and the United Nations offering medical support to the country’s wounded.
“It hurts to see the children – little children – crying and injured,” Dr. Masad Barhoum, director-general of Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya told The Jerusalem Post. “People without children – their lives destroyed in an instance. They need medical and psychological help.” Barhoum, a Christian Arab, speaks Arabic. On Wednesday, he took to social networks and the radio appealing directly in their language to the Lebanese president and prime minister, and even Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, to allow him to help.
Galilee Medical Center is just several kilometers from the Lebanese border and, due to its proximity, the staff has learned to mobilize quickly and to work under emergency conditions. Since 1981, with the outbreak of the First Lebanon War, the hospital has adopted work procedures as a hospital on the confrontation line.
Barhoum said Lebanese citizens could be transferred to Israel via the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and then returned the same way. They would cross at the Rosh Hanikra Crossing, also known as Ras al-Naqoura Crossing. “The idea is to help them and return them home in peace,” said Barhoum. “We have no agenda, there are no enemies in this situation. As medical professionals, we do not differentiate.”
Barhoum said that no hospital system could stand up to the task of treating so many injured people at one time – estimates are that more than 4,000 are in need of care. This is even more so the situation in Lebanon, where the country is faced with deep economic challenges. He said he reads Lebanese social media posts and he sees the people are angry, confused and even disillusioned. The government, too, is afraid to make the wrong move as the people are watching closely.
On Wednesday, rumors that wounded UNIFIL personnel were being treated at Galilee Medical Center surfaced, but Barhoum said this is not the case, although he expects that this could happen soon. Late Tuesday, UNIFIL reported that a ship from its Maritime Task Force was damaged, leaving some UNIFIL naval peacekeepers injured – some of them seriously. “UNIFIL is transporting the injured peacekeepers to the nearest hospital for medical treatment,” the statement read.
Ziv Medical Center in Safed has also reached out to Lebanon to help. Late Tuesday, it posted on Twitter that it was “experienced and prepared” to take in wounded.
Hospital head Dr. Salman Zarka said he had been in direct contact with the IDF Northern Command and reached out to the UN to offer assistance.
He told the Post that until 2000, his hospital treated Lebanese citizens on a regular basis.
“Two years ago, a Lebanese woman came to visit us at the medical center,” Zarka recalled. “She told us that she and her mother had received medical care 30 years ago and that she still remembers us and wanted to say thank you. “A meaningful story like this says that in such incidents, when there are dead and injured, you need to let the medical workers do their jobs and leave politics behind,” he concluded.
Sources in the know said that the UN is considering opening up a field hospital in Cyprus where an international medical team could offer support. Zarka said it is likely that Israeli doctors will join any international delegation. “If there is an international delegation then Lebanon won’t put any condition that there not be Israelis – that would be absurd,” he said. The government and UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov have been in contact about Israel’s aid offer, an Israeli official said.
Shortly before press time, a source in UNIFIL told KAN News that Israel is in the advanced stages of talks to transfer specific equipment to Lebanon, although neither Israel nor UNIFIL would confirm the report. Israel is negotiating sending equipment to detect missing people under collapsed buildings, medical equipment and to treat people who were injured who have foreign citizenship, Israel Hayom reported.
Israel has long provided medical assistance to countries in need.
Prof. Elhanan Bar-On, director of the Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response at Sheba Medical Center, spoke to Israel Radio on Wednesday and explained that the Jewish state could offer both nursing care on the border or accept injured patients into Israeli hospitals.
“Of course, sending medical personnel to Lebanon is not practical – there are forces there that could interfere with such an operation,” he said.
When asked how Israeli hospitals could accept more patients when they are challenged with treating coronavirus patients, he said that, “If God forbid there is an earthquake in our area, then everything will change… An earthquake does not recognize coronavirus and it does not recognize borders and fences.” He added that coronavirus patients are being treated largely in internal medicine wards and not trauma units, so surgical wards are not unreasonably crowded.
“Israel is ready to help,” added Zarka. “It’s a shame that people will die for no reason.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.