Lea Malul, public affairs director at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, shows a detonated Kassam missile to those gathered at a Woodbridge presentation on March 26. Up to 40 rockets land daily in the vicinity of the hospital. Photos by Debra Rubin
April 08, 2008
The thousands of missiles that have fallen in recent years have forced employees and patients to scramble for cover, turned employee dining rooms into emergency rooms, and sent staff rushing to the hospital at all hours of the day and night.
“We hear the alarm for the ‘red code’ and we know we have 15 seconds to find a place to hide ourselves,” said Malul during a March 26 presentation at the Woodbridge law offices of Wilentz Goldman & Spitzer. “One weekend we had over 140 rockets. You just live in a shelter. You don’t have a life.”
However, members of the medical staff have to immediately regroup when the warnings sound, because “a few minutes after the Kassams hit we have the ambulances.”
“As soon as we hear the sirens of the ambulances we know we have to be there,” said Malul. “No matter which, CEO or secretary, you’ve got a job and you have to go into work no matter what time it is.”
Sharon Regev, the consulate’s director of public affairs, described Barzilai as “a frontline hospital” located only six miles from Gaza. As such, it plays a vital role in treating wounded soldiers and both Palestinian and Israeli terror victims.
Regev, who arrived carrying a detonated Kassam, the nose of the rocket twisted from the explosion, said that one of the most difficult tasks the residents of Gaza border areas face is getting the word out about their perilous daily life.
Having an audience such as the one at the law firm — a multi-ethnic group that included attorneys — was particularly helpful. Several there questioned why they had never heard about the missile attacks.
“This was good,” Regev said as she walked away from a group whose members continued to engage her, Malul, and commission executive director Andrea Yonah long after the program ended.
Malul showed photographs of basement operating rooms, medical personnel scurrying for cover, fires caused by missiles, and numerous ambulances arriving during times of mass casualties.
Two incubators — holding premature Palestinian twins from Gaza — from the hospital’s neonatal intensive care section were shown inside a fortified section of the hospital during a Kassam attack.
“Our blood is the same color,” said Malul.
She also showed ambulances and police vehicles being stopped at the front gates of the hospital to be searched.
“We check everyone; no matter if it’s a policeman or doctor, they go through security,” she said. “Every vehicle goes through a checkpoint.”
The Perth Amboy-based Jewish Renaissance Foundation — which runs school-based healthcare services in Newark and Perth Amboy and medical missions to poor communities, Jewish and general, helped organize the Woodbridge event so that non-Jews and Jews could hear for themselves about the situation in the Western Negev.
“People always see the Israeli tanks, but they don’t see the suffering” of Israelis who live near the Gaza border, said foundation president Alan Goldsmith, a member of the NJ-Israel Commission.
He said his organization is now formalizing a memorandum of understanding with the Israeli Medical Association that will allow the foundation to use Israeli doctors on its African medical missions and to send its doctors to Israel in times of emergency.
“We will be sending our doctors, including Muslim doctors, to Barzilai to stand in support with the hospital,” said Goldsmith.
Barzilai Hospital, built in 1962, serves a catchment area of 500,000, including a significant number of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, and has 100,000 admissions annually.
Alan Goldsmith, president of the Jewish Renaissance Foundation, talks to Lea Malul, public affairs director at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, before a March 26 program in Woodbridge. Looking on is Jewel Safran of West Orange, a friend of Malul’s.
Besides treating those injured in attacks, the medical center treats people suffering mentally and physically from the pressure of living with the unending threats and violence.
“We have less obvious problems — such as pregnant women who lose their babies when they run and fall and extra heart attacks,” said Malul.
Despite a shortage of finances and other resources, Barzilai’s staff members think of themselves as “one big family,” according to Malul.
“We live there, we eat there, we sleep there, and spend most of our time there,” she said. “Our families are part of the hospital.”
Malul expressed hope for the future, adding, “When will our neighbors in Gaza realize we are there to stay and we have nowhere to go? If they will realize we are there to stay, then we will have paradise.”
For more information or to arrange a tour of Barzilai Medical Center during a visit to Israel, contact Malul.
- Comment: firstname.lastname@example.org