One of the most amazing missions undertaken by MDA involved the transfer of a Palestinian baby, eight days old, with a heart defect, from the Gaza Strip to Sheba Medical Center in Ted Hashomer just south of Ben Gurion Airport, for a lifesaving operation. On June 10, 2007, the bulletproof ambulance was the first to enter the Palestinian territories since the Second Intifada broke out in 2000. Previously, MDA vehicles went as far as the army checkpoints, where they picked up Palestinian patients in need of medical care in Israel. On this mercy dash, the MDA ambulance was met and escorted into Gaza by a convoy of Palestinian police, who blocked roads to ensure that they got through safely. The baby suffered from a congenital heart defect and required urgent treatment to survive.
“We transfer patients from the Gaza Strip under fire on a daily basis,” said Moshe Vaknin, deputy manager of the Lachish region of the MDA. “Just recently, our medics continued to treat patients while shells were fired at the terminal at Erez. During the Shavuot [Pentecost, May 23 this year] holiday, we evacuated another baby in an incubator, once again, endangering our staff.”
Standing By for Red Alerts
Most of the world media has departed from Sderot, the Israeli town just one kilometer (0.6 mile) from the Gaza border, where 4,000 Kassams peppered the residents during the last six years. The frequency of attacks slowed for at least a season, and the media left to rendezvous with a headline elsewhere, but MDA is part of the Sderot scenery. The paramedics and ambulance drivers operate in shifts at the aging MDA station. According to the American Friends of MDA Web site, they are waiting for the tseva adom (color red) siren. “Normal” in Sderot is a mere five or six Kassams a day. While the people flock to bomb shelters and safe locations, MDA workers are alert and ready to spring into the danger. The MDA is taking steps to reinforce their stations in Ashkelon, north of the Gaza Strip, and Tzohar, south of Sderot, which are also on the target list of terrorists.
MDA medic Yossi Cohen has been with the service for more than 30 years. He is a resident of Sderot and was the first MDA team member on the scene who attended to a woman who sustained severe head injuries from a Kassam attack. “I go to sleep dressed, on the alert. I know that I could be woken up any second and dispatched to the sites, and I have to be focused in order to treat the casualties.” Yossi has firsthand experience of the effect of Kassam attacks. His daughter, son-in-law, and baby grandson sustained injuries from a Kassam that hit their house in Moshav Carmia. The seven-month-old baby sustained the most severe injuries. “He suffered head injuries. He’s had two surgical procedures, skull reconstruction, and has a permanent drainage tube attached to his head. He’s in therapy every Monday and Thursday. Yossi himself takes his grandson to these therapy sessions, which include hydrotherapy sessions in a regional swimming pool.
In March this year, MDA engaged in an imaginary war exercise. Thousands of medics, policemen, soldiers from the army’s Home Front Command, and Fire and Rescue Services personnel participated. They rehearsed a wide range of threats, from 9/11-type attacks to Iranian and Syrian nonconventional missile strikes.
In the flow of the incessant warlike rhetoric, it is important to remember that there is a strong, dedicated, and well-trained group who watch everyone else run to safety while they stand up and are counted, even when the need is in the Palestinian territories. They reflect the true qualities of the Jewish people whose standards of decency and integrity are drawn directly from their faith in the Tanach (Gen.–Mal.) and in the Creator of all men. This is a story that has to be told.
—By Ron Ross, Israel Mosaic Radio
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