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Life Above All Else

January 4, 2021

by: Ilse Strauss, News Bureau Chief

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IDF soldiers treating wounded Syrian civilians

On October 18, a new patient arrived at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center coronavirus ward in critical condition. Saeb Erekat—chief Palestinian negotiator, right hand to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the man hailed as the public face of the Palestinian people—had tested positive for COVID-19 days earlier. The disease quickly ravaged Erekat, who suffered from preexisting health conditions and underwent a lung transplant in 2017. By the time he arrived at the Jerusalem hospital, he required immediate ventilation and resuscitation. Israeli doctors battled for nearly a month to save his life—but to no avail. Erekat passed away on November 10.

His death caused quite the stir in the international media as news outlets unpacked the legacy of one of the most prominent Palestinian politicians, discussing his contribution, expertise and charisma. Like with so many other stories where Israel is concerned, the international media once again missed the forest for the trees.

The headlines failed to mention that Erekat was a malevolent anti-Israel propagandist, spearheading diplomatic campaigns to rip the Jewish state’s reputation to shreds. They omitted his leading role in feeding the media false information charging Israel with massacring Palestinians civilians and dumping their bodies in mass graves. There was no peep of Erekat’s crusades to sue Israel for war crimes at the International Criminal Court, boycott Israeli products internationally and brand the Jewish state as a “colonial-apartheid state.” More importantly, they remained mum about the irony that when the man who rose to fame demonizing Israel was in need, he turned to the object of his hatred for help.

And Israel? The so-called perpetrator of war crimes and alleged colonial-apartheid state swung wide its hospital doors and invested countless hours and scarce medical resources in the battle for Erekat’s life—a life he might have spent further treading Israel’s name into the mud.

Erekat’s death caused a stir in the international media, and rightly so. But instead of unpacking the questionable legacy of the chief Palestinian negotiator, perhaps news outlets should have marveled at the magnificent display of Israel’s commitment to preserving life—regardless of whom the life belongs to and how that life is spent.

Israel’s battle for Erekat’s life is but one example of the Jewish state’s dedication to life above all else. Hard-line Palestinian terrorist Yahya Sinwar was incarcerated in an Israeli prison for murdering two soldiers when he was rushed to hospital with severe headaches. Israeli doctors diagnosed a brain tumor and performed emergency surgery, saving his life. Sinwar was eventually released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, only to be elected the Gaza leader of Hamas, the terror group dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Sinwar now spends his life attempting to annihilate the very people who saved his life.

To Save a Life

Fatma is the 5,000th child to be treated by Save a Child’s Heart

These accounts—and numerous others—raise an obvious question: why does Israel invest life in those who seek her demise? The answer is simple. In the Jewish state, life trumps politics, hatred, threats and even fear. While Israel’s enemies cherish death, Israel cherishes life.

Perhaps centuries of persecution instilled in Israel the realization that no life can be taken for granted. Perhaps the awareness of the sanctity of life was born from a history of Jewish lives often considered expendable. Or perhaps it stems from something deeper, something ingrained in the DNA of a people.    

The Mishnah (first postbiblical written recording of Jewish oral tradition) teaches that “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” In Israel, this isn’t merely a suggestion or a pretty platitude. It’s a core value, woven into the fabric of society, a moral compass instilled in the ancient Israelites millennia ago that continues to guide their posterity today. It’s evident in Israel’s medical interventions, humanitarian aid missions, the governance of its citizens and particularly in the way it treats its enemies.    

Life for All

IDF leaflet in Arabic warning citizens to evacuate the area

Israel treated nearly 11,000 wounded Syrian civilians during the Syrian Civil War—often in Israeli hospitals and at no cost. Helping a neighbor in need is in itself a commendable feat, but Syria is technically at war with Israel, with Israel off-limits to Syrians. Desperation drove the wounded civilians to the border fence to seek help from the source they believed to be their mortal enemy. And Israel opened its heart, investing countless hours and resources in the battle for Syrian lives.   

Wounded Syrian civilians are but one example. Whether the need is in its own backyard or thousands of miles away, Israel has a proud history of devoting its medical expertise to sustaining and protecting life. When a natural disaster strikes, the Jewish state is often first on the frontlines, bringing doctors, nurses, rescue workers, medical supplies and more to help a people not their own survive the rubble of their shattered lives. And as part of Operation Save a Child’s Heart, Israel has performed life-saving surgeries—free of charge—on 5,400 children from 62 developing countries where crucial cardiac care is inaccessible. Many of these tiny patients hail from Muslim-majority nations like Kurdistan, Sudan and Afghanistan, countries who don’t recognize Israel’s existence. Yet Israel continues to open its borders, investing love, care and expertise into the lives of those who shun her.

Israel’s life-above-all-else mentality extends to all spheres of society, including the battlefield. Even during the chaos of war, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is driven by the value of cherishing civilian life. Before striking a known enemy stronghold or weapons’ cache, the IDF ensures that the structures are cleared of innocent civilians, making phone calls and dropping leaflets to warn noncombatants and giving them time to evacuate the area. The enemy is well aware of Israel’s commitment to life for all and often exploits this value by using civilians as human shields, choosing hospitals, schools and apartment buildings as weapons caches or herding civilians into known IDF targets. The IDF has aborted numerous strikes—even seconds before they were carried out—if civilians were spotted at the target, thus choosing life over the destruction of the enemy.

To Save the World

Let’s assume that the Mishnah is right about this—as Israel does. Let’s assume that saving a life equates to saving a world, a whole universe of hopes, inventions, future generations, differences made and destinies altered. Can you imagine? Can we even begin to comprehend the world of difference this tiny nation has made, simply by choosing to cherish life above all else?

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