Could wartime medical outreach involving Jews, Christians, and Muslims evolve into a hands-on, practical Middle East peace plan?
Optimistic people of faith hope so. And a courageous group of Israeli soldiers and Christian medical professionals are doing all they can to offer comfort and compassion in the meantime.
It’s no secret that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has operated a medical outreach at the Syrian border for more than four years. Along with civilian medical experts, they have provided emergency assistance to war-ravaged victims of the Syrian Civil War.
But until recently, this effort has been mostly largely overlooked by Middle East media beyond Israel’s borders.
Then, on Nov. 6, a surprising story appeared on Arab News’ website. This unusual report may indicate a softening toward Israel among Sunni Arabs, in light of intensifying tensions with Iran. The article began, “The wounded Syrians, carried on donkeys through the pitch-black night, could be seen in the beam of a searchlight held by their unlikely saviors — Israeli soldiers.
“They were high in the mountains, nearing the Israeli-occupied zone of the Golan Heights, where they were to receive medical treatment for their wounds even though Israel and Syria are officially at war. Casualties from Syria’s six-year civil war are taken to hospitals inside Israel several nights each week….”
Perhaps even more surprising is that in recent weeks, a Christian aid group has been working inside Syria, caring for wounded and ailing Muslims, facilitated by the Jewish State’s military forces.
A Religious Zionist media outlet Israel National News (Arutz Sheva) posted a video documenting the heroic efforts of an American surgeon and a trauma nurse, who worked in a Syrian village for a 7-week tour of duty. These two women, alongside others, not only cared for critically wounded war victims, but also treated sick children and women in childbirth.
In early autumn, a Christian aid group, Frontier Alliance International (FAI), sent their first medical team, including the nurse and surgeon, deep inside Syria. They were escorted by IDF soldiers in the dark of night to a bare-bones clinic. No question about it — they were in extremely perilous surroundings.
Somewhere between 350,000 and 500,000 Syrians have died in the devastating civil war that broke out in 2011, an off-shoot of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings. The Syrian War has been fought amongst a dizzying array of militias and terrorist organizations — most notably the Islamic State (ISIS) — opposing Syria’s Bashar Assad’s regime, which is supported by Iran and Russia.
In response to discovering critically wounded war victims, some close to death, on their Syrian border, Israel’s army began to quietly send the worst cases to nearby medical facilities.
Later on, a field hospital, utilizing volunteer Israeli doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, was set up to triage the worst cases, sending them to hospitals while caring for those who could be treated on-site. Afterwards, the recovered patients were all discreetly returned to Syria.
The Times of Israel reported in August, “The assistance began in 2013 with the IDF allowing wounded Syrians into Israel for medical treatment. But in the past year, the military launched Operation Good Neighbor, which dramatically increased the amount of assistance given to include treating chronically ill children who have no access to hospitals, building clinics in Syria, and supplying hundreds of tons of food, medicines and clothes to the war-ravaged villages across the border.”
Against this backdrop, the FAI clinic went to work, and its two Christian medical experts recently returned from a grueling 7-week tour of duty inside Syria. Dr. Sally Parsons and trauma nurse Debbie Dennison described their motivation to serve in such a dangerous, demanding environment.
Both women said it was their faith that led them into the war zone.
Dr. Parsons — a surgeon for 30 years — faced surgeries she had never done before. She had to rely on prayer and YouTube videos to proceed on more than one occasion.
"[I went there] because the Lord calls us into all the world to all the nations,” she said. “I can’t speak for the others, but I specifically felt God told me this is what I was supposed to be doing."
Trauma nurse Debbie Dennison, her voice choked with emotion explained: “You had to count the cost. You had to say, ‘Do I love you enough that I’m willing to lay down my life?’ Of course, my answer was ‘yes.’”
Chris Mitchell, Christian Broadcasting Network’s Middle East Bureau Chief, summed up his hopeful view of the unusual outreach program.
“The partnership between the IDF and FAI represents a unique landmark in Christian-Jewish relations. …Some see it as a genuine Middle East peace plan: Jews helping Christians helping Muslims.”