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Israeli doctors set aside emotions in treating flotilla passengers

WASHINGTON (Washington Jewish Week) — The call came early on a recent morning: A helicopter carrying those wounded during a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla would soon arrive at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. But as doctors began unloading the injured, they quickly realized it wasn’t Israeli soldiers who had been rushed to their facility for emergency treatment.

“In a few minutes, we understood that they are really the terrorists who were brought to our hospital,” Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Hadassah’s director general, recalled in a recent interview.

The medical team was tasked with providing care to about seven severely injured Turks who had suffered injuries to their extremities and lungs after engaging in a deadly clash with Israeli Navy commandos in the early morning of May 31.

Would the Israeli medical staffers be able to uphold their Hippocratic Oath and treat patients who had attacked Israeli soldiers just hours earlier?

“For me it was not an issue,” said Mor-Yosef, who was in Washington on June 15 to attend a symposium at the National Guard Association. “I didn’t respect [the Turkish patients] and I don’t agree with what they did … but at the same time I wanted to provide them the best treatment possible and to cure them.”  Mor-Yosef says his staff — some of whom performed life-preserving surgery on several of the wounded boat passengers — felt similarly.

“Nobody said, ‘I don’t want to treat them.’ Nobody found an excuse to go other places,” he recalled. “Everybody knew the helicopters were on their way and came to the trauma unit. And the minute they knew [the patients] were from Turkey, the treatment was [delivered] as expected on a professional level.”

Apparently not all of the hospital’s donors agreed with the impartial policy, as Mor-Yosef said that since the flotilla incident, a few have threatened to pull their funding.

“Some of them said, ‘I don’t want to give money to a hospital that treats terrorists,’ ” he recalled. Fiscal pressure from donors won’t force a change in hospital policy — no matter who you are, if you wind up in Hadassah’s emergency room, you’ll be taken care of, Mor-Yosef said.

“We’re a humanitarian organization,” he explained. “We are not used to asking someone what you really did before you came to the hospital — if you wanted to blow us up … or if you wanted to kill someone. The minute you are in the hospital, you are a patient like all other patients.”

Disgruntled donors who question the policy hear this response from Mor-Yosef: “This is your money, and donation is an option. [But] we’re not going to change our values.”

Either way, Hadassah’s doctors have worked through much tenser circumstances, Mor-Yosef said. “More than 25” of Hadassah’s employees lost relatives in violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis during the second intifada, he said.

Despite the tragedies, Hadassah’s medical professionals “continued to work, and to put on the white coat. And the minute they put on the white coat, they act like professionals and try to put emotions aside.”  The ability to effectively compartmentalize one’s feelings, Mor-Yosef said, can only be cultivated through much time and training.

“It doesn’t come easy,” but it is a requisite skill, he said.