June 23, 2003
Click here for Arabic Version
Abu Salam Al-Arabi
I was a reserve lieutenant serving in an Arab army during the 1973 war. I was positioned at a big military hospital. The adjacent ward was assigned to the injured Israeli pilots whose jet fighters were shot down by air defense missiles. Many of them ejected from their planes just seconds before being hit by SAMs. Their major injuries were not caused by ejection or hitting the ground. Most of their injuries were due to the cruel behavior of the people who captured them.
Air force servicemen guarded the ward. Selected doctors and exceptionally good-looking nurses took care of the pilots. Red Cross representatives were present along with reporters and photographers from Reuters, AP, and other news agencies.
One of the highest-ranking Israeli pilots was hosted in a separate room according to the Geneva Conventions on POWs. One night I was standing in the garden enjoying the cool breeze of October. The surgery department was in an upper level in the hospital courtyard. The hospital itself contains several separated buildings built on several hills.
While I was looking up there in the darkness, I saw four medics wearing battle suits carrying a patient with a stretcher descending the garden stairs hurriedly. They were heading towards the place where I stood. Suddenly they stopped and put the stretcher on a middle terrace. One of them began kicking and spitting on the patient. The other three were watching.
I ran upstairs and I found a naked, uncovered young man in the stretcher. One of his legs was amputated surgically and the stump was covered with bandages. He was asleep but trembling with cold as the result of surgical anesthetics.
I shouted at them, "Why did you stop?"
They said,” To get some rest because he is heavy.”
Then I said to the one who was kicking and cursing the patient,” Stop! What are you doing?”
He stopped but said, “Yes sir, but he is an enemy, an Israeli pilot, they bombarded us”.
I said,” So what? He is a POW, a soldier like you and he is an injured and helpless human being. Are these the ethics of Arabs and Muslims?” No one said a word. The pilot was white, tall, and had an athletic body.
I said,” Why didn’t you cover him with a blanket?”
Nobody answered. I said, ”Hurry up. Take him to the pilots’ ward." They did. We entered a small room that was the reception and registration area of the ward. They threw him on the examination couch and took the stretcher and ran away. He kept trembling from cold.
I looked at the guards and said:" Let someone bring a woolen blanket”. Nobody moved. I rushed out of the room very angry. I opened the door of a nearby dormitory reserved for resident doctors from the college of medicine in the city. I pulled a blanket off a bed and stormed back and began to cover the pilot.
A guard said,” Let me help you sir”. I let him cover the pilot.
Another guard said,” He does not deserve it sir, he is a criminal enemy”.
I said to him,” He is a human being, a soldier obeying his superiors’ commands. He is a POW and we want him alive to trade him with our POWs. Had we wanted him dead we would not have operated on him to save him from the gangrene in his leg.” I walked out of the room when a nurse entered to register the new guest and let him join his comrades inside the ward. I didn’t know and didn’t ask how many of them were there.
I sat in the garden feeling very excited. I remember one person who was watching us saying:” God bless you sir”.
A few days later I was in the same place when I heard the crying of a child and the voice of a woman. I saw a nurse holding a two-year-old boy. She was in charge of tending a wounded IAF colonel in his special room. I told her to calm down. She did, but the child kept crying with a lot of tears and stretching his arms towards the colonel’s room.
She was unmarried and the child was her nephew. His two parents were employees at an army munitions factory. They had a nursery there but it was closed during the war and his aunt suggested to them that she would better keep him with her in the hospital where he can have health care, security, and food.
She used to take care of the colonel and the child used to see him daily. On that day, when she was changing the colonel’s bedclothes the colonel was very happy to see the child and kept smiling, kissing, and amusing the small creature.
When she finished her routine job she wanted to take the child out of the room. The child refused to get out and wanted to stay with the colonel. When she pulled him from the arms of the colonel the boy began to cry and grabbed the colonel’s neck very tightly. When he saw the child’s behavior, the colonel held him tightly and begged the nurse to keep him for few more minutes. She refused to do so and kept pulling the child off his arms. The colonel began to cry while kissing the cheeks of the child. She began to cry and beg him to let the child go. The guards heard the trio crying and hurried to the room and helped her to take the child out. They closed the door again and let the colonel weeping alone.
When she finished telling me her story I said to her, "Why don’t you keep the child there for a while?”
She said, "It might be dangerous to the child’s life”. I knew she was lying. I didn’t reply, as I felt disgusted. After she went away with the kid I cried silently for few minutes. Other nurses passed by and saw the tears in my eyes. They must have thought that I lost a brother in the war. In fact I did.
"Abu Salam Al-Arabi"
Abu Salam Al-Arabi is a pen name used to protect the author, who may be contacted through MidEastWeb.
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