Syria's wounded risk retribution to receive treatment at Israel hospital

Syria's wounded risk retribution to receive treatment at Israel hospital
  1. Syria's wounded risk retribution to receive treatment at Israel hospital
    An Australian-Israeli doctor describes the "emotional experience" of a program where fighters, women and children wounded in the Syrian war receive treatment and care from their long-time enemy…
Correspondents Report By Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill A wounded Syrian man receives treatment at Ziv Medical Centre in Israel Photo: More than 3,000 wounded Syrians have received free medical care in Israel. (Reuters: Ronen Zvulun)

At first, Ziv hospital in the northern Israeli town of Safed seems like a pretty ordinary facility. But a few floors up, in a special ward guarded by Israeli intelligence agents, are patients from Syria.

"The majority have been severely wounded children from blast injuries," Ziv hospital's senior intensive care paediatrician, Michael Harari, said.

For the last four years, the Australian-Israeli doctor has put his heart and soul into a program that has seen more than 3,000 wounded Syrians receive free medical care in Israel.

"My involvement really started with on particular child. She was the first to expose me [to] all the horrors of the whole enterprise in Syria," 61-year-old Dr Harari said.

"She was an eight-year-old girl who arrived here with her mother. She was quite severely injured, mainly in her legs."

Ziv hospital's senior intensive care paediatrician Michael Harari discusses treating Syrian families Photo: Michael Harari says treating Syrian families has been a "surprisingly emotional experience". (ABC News: Sophie McNeill)

Dr Harari had never seen a child in such a condition. He said she was undernourished and clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"She had a full blown case of it and was totally withdrawn," Dr Harari said.

"The child was mute, uncommunicative, didn't make eye contact. [She] wouldn't come out from under her blanket, wouldn't eat … she taught us a lot about what we should do with Syrians."

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Israel and Syria remain technically at war, and seeking treatment from the enemy is something that could earn them retribution at home.

But in their desperation, in the dark of night, wounded Syrians — including opposition fighters — make their way to several known locations on the Israel-Syria front in the occupied Golan Heights.

Israeli soldiers on lookout or patrol spot them waiting by the fence and then whisk them away to hospitals for treatment.

"The border that you thought was impenetrable is suddenly porous or semi porous," Dr Harari said.

"And people come across and you get to know them. There's something very uplifting and exhilarating about getting to know Syrian families."

Artwork painted by wounded Syrian children hangs on a wall in Israel's Ziv hospital. Photo: Artwork painted by wounded Syrian children hangs on a wall in Israel's Ziv hospital. (ABC News: Sophie McNeill)

The Melbourne-educated doctor — whose grandparents were originally from the Syrian capital Damascus — said he had made intimate connections with people whom he could never previously have met.

"I don't use the world intimate lightly," he said.

"There is a truly intimate connection. We have breakfast and lunch together for many weeks and many months.

"So it's been a surprisingly emotional experience."

Doctor says there's a 'strong wind blowing' to do more

A child reacts from inside a bus evacuating people from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria on December 15, 2016. Photo: Dr Harari says Israel "stood by and did nothing for the first two years of the civil war". (Reuters: Abdalrhman Ismail)

The majority of Syrian children Dr Harari treats have lost limbs through shelling and barrel bombs.

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"I lived in the third world for many years. I lived in Papua New Guinea for three years. I thought I'd seen it all and felt it all, but no," he said quietly.

"There's something obviously shocking about it. Appalling. I don't…