Peace through tourism works, even if this type of tourism is quiet different. This is a unique friendship and a Happy Chanukah: Syrians and the Israeli Army saviors.
This morning after visiting some amazing archeological sites from the first century c.e. we moved onto Ziv hospital on the outskirts of Tzfat. Normally hospitals are not tourist sites, but this and its sister hospitals throughout the Galilee are not normal. To places such as Ziv, Syrian warriors are brought in the dead of night. The army goes into Syria to rescue the sick and wounded. Others have friends or family bring them to the border where once checked and cleared they are brought to Israeli hospitals. These men, about 90% are men, are given as much medical treatment for as long as they need it free of charge. Now there are additional units for women and mothers and children.
We spent about an hour with four of these men, one was perhaps 17, two in their late twenties, and one an older man in his late 50s. The Syrian authorities had taught these men their whole lives to hate Jews. Now Jews are caring for them, all were afraid during their first few days at the hospital and all were in terrible pain.
Certainly Israel has no legal obligation to heal those who in other circumstances are trained to kill them, and yet as the Israeli doctors stated, their job is to heal- never to hurt. It is what in Hebrew is called “tikkun olam- the fixing of a broken world”. Theirs is not theoretical Judaism, it is applied Judaism where the saving of a life, pikuach nefesh, takes precedence over all else.
Here st Ziv hospital we see men without hope, and now missing limbs, given hope and limbs. Israeli doctors report that they have learned a great deal about battlefield medicine, indeed tragically they have seen too much. The Syrian civil war has had over 500,000 deaths and no one really knows how many have been injured.
Israel has had to create all sorts of new forms of medicine. The doctors, social workers, healing clowns, and psychologists must all form cohesive teams. Certainly no other country in the world would take great risks to actively take in soldiers from an enemy nation, heal them and do whatever is medically necessary to return them to productive lives. Just thirty kilometers from Ziv Hospital is the Syrian border, there on the other side death is ubiquitous and tragedy never ceases.
While we were visiting these men, a hospital orderly entered withe a tray full of “sufganiyot” (Hanukkah donuts). We wished the men Happy Hanukah, something dangerous even to say in Syria. As the Syrian soldiers ate, they were able to state the unimaginable: Chag Sameach/Happy Holidays.
Here in for what they have been taught is enemy territory these broken men (and at other places women and children, received the best possible Chanukah gift; the gift of healing and their Israeli doctors in return, received the gift of helping to make the world a bit better, to give life and hope to those who have known only death and pain.
Chanukah is about the miracle of light defeating darkness, of hope where there was only despair. There, that hospital room, the phrase found on every dreidel כס גדול היה פה – a great miracle occurred here came to life, instead of bullets Jews and Arabs could wish each other a happy holiday and due to the work of many brave doctors share jelly donuts and hope.
To be here is not merely to believe in miracles, it is to see them before one’s eyes and know that they are true,
Happy Chanukah from a land of miracles.