Prominent Shaare Zedek Medical Center Doctor Leads Clandestine Syrian Humanitarian Effort

Monday, September 16, 2013

Toronto, Ontario – Dr. Ofer Merin, is one of many Israeli physicians who have been secretly providing humanitarian medical support to the Syrian refugees.  The Deputy Director General of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli Defence Forces and Commander of the IDF Field Hospital, Dr. Merin has  been involved in recent months in treating hundreds of Syrian refugees injured in the civil war at a fully equipped field hospital located on the Israeli-Syrian border. Until recently, this humanitarian medical effort remained a top-secret military operation.

Dr. Merin says that treating the Syrian patients requires both caring for their direct medical needs as well as recognizing their deep emotional scars and fears. “When the patients reach us, they are in a state of complete shock and are understandably suspicious towards us Israeli’s,” he says. “It’s difficult for them to accept even a cup of water or food. But this is a natural response for someone who until that very moment viewed us as the enemy.”

Dr. Merin also recalls the story of an injured Syrian who underwent an extensive surgery and was unconscious for several days.  “We were concerned that when he woke up he would be startled to see an Israeli soldier, so our solution was to bring in another Syrian patient whom he could trust to explain where he was and that he was being treated and not interrogated.”

The medical staff at  the field hospital have a deeply held belief that the sanctity of human life supersedes any previously held conceptions of politics or interaction with some of Israel’s cruelest enemies. For example, a mother who was treated alongside her two daughters upon being released offered Dr. Merin an invitation to her home for dinner once the border between the two countries becomes peaceful. “At that moment, I felt a real appreciation that I was part of an historical mission,” he says.  “We are no longer Syrians or Israeli’s, but human beings, a doctor and his patient. And while we might not change the situation in the Middle East, there is no greater opportunity to highlight the potential for peace than through medical healing, and that’s certainly worth something.”

For more than 110 years, Shaare Zedek Medical Center has responded to the needs of the people of Jerusalem by providing world class health care for more than 500,000 patients annually. Once a 20-bed hospital on Jaffa Road back in 1902, Shaare Zedek has since transformed into a 1000 bed facility with Centers of Excellence that treat patients of every race, religion and nationality.  Known as a Hospital with a Heart, Shaare Zedek Medical Center relies on donors around the world as it does not receive government support for education, equipment or research.

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