Last night, at 10:45 p.m. a United Hatzalah EMT was driving past the southern gate of Efrat, a Jewish town in Gush Etzion just south of Bethlehem when he noticed a Palestinian vehicle stopped by the side of the road with its blinkers on. He stopped to ask if the occupants needed help and found a man with a completely severed arm waiting for medical assistance to arrive. He alerted emergency responders from the area and requested that an intensive care mobile ambulance (ICU) be sent to the scene. Responders began arriving moments later and working together they began to bandage the patient’s arm. A few moments later the Efrat ICU ambulance arrived and all of the responders worked together flawlessly to staunch the bleeding before transporting the patient to an Israeli hospital in stable condition.

A similar event occurred a few weeks prior. Just before midnight, on Tuesday an emergency call reverberated across the rooms of emergency first responders in Efrat, stating that there was a person suffering severe chest pains at the southern entrance to the city. First responders from United Hatzalah together with the local ICU ambulance team responded to the emergency.  They found a Palestinian resident of Bethlehem who had come to Efrat seeking medical assistance.

Some of the United Hatzalah volunteers from Gush Etzion and their spouses. Among them are volunteers who responded to both incidents at the southern gate of Efrat.
Some of the United Hatzalah volunteers from Gush Etzion and their spouses. Among them are volunteers who responded to both incidents at the southern gate of Efrat.

“These things occur quite frequently in the area of Gush Etzion and other locales of Judea and Samaria,” said a volunteer EMT from United Hatzalah who responded to the scene and wished to remain nameless. “No matter who the patient is, it is our responsibility as first responders to provide treatment as long as it is within our power to do so,” he added.

Raphael Poch, the International Spokesperson for United Hatzalah and a volunteer EMT with the organization was among those who responded to the earlier incident. “The unique aspect of this incident isn’t that we were treating a Palestinian, that happens fairly frequently in Judea and Samaria,” Poch said. “The unusual aspect was the linguistic interactions that took place between the patient and those treating him”.  

The cardiac patient, who had been brought by his personal doctor from Bethlehem, only spoke Arabic, while his doctor spoke Arabic and English. The ambulance personnel, being fairly familiar with treating their Palestinian neighbors from time to time, spoke to the patient in Arabic, while Poch spoke to the doctor in English and attained a full medical history of the patient. Within just a few moments from the call going out, the patient was hooked up to a monitor on the Efrat ICU ambulance and began receiving treatment from the assembled EMS personnel. In the case of the complete arm amputation, the response was similarly as quick and seamless.

“When I asked the doctor why he chose to come to Efrat to receive treatment, he responded by saying that he didn’t trust the Palestinian health care system for serious patients and he preferred sending his patients to receive Israeli health care,” Poch relayed. “It gave me a twofold sense of pride. First that the Israeli EMS system is open to receive patients regardless of background, and puts religious and political issues aside in favor of saving lives. My second stab of pride was in the knowledge that our EMS system was thought of highly by a person who could be one of our staunchest critics. It really brought the message home to me that this entire field is simply about helping people and everything else falls by the wayside.”


Poch said that while it is one incident in many, the message reverberates far beyond this individual incident. “Saving lives in Judea and Samaria is just one unifying point of EMS work in Israel. EMS teams often consist of people from different backgrounds and nationalities working together. Jews work alongside Arabs, Druze, Christians, and Bedouin of all different backgrounds. Even among the religious groupings themselves, there is a wide range of observant and secular responders working shoulder to shoulder all with the common goal of helping the patient. Volunteers even leave their beds in the middle of the night to rush out and save the life of a stranger or neighbor who called on them for help. It warms the heart every time to see it and be joined at an emergency scene by those who value the same ideals.”