NAHARIYA, Israel (AP) — It looks like a standard scene in the corner of the children’s intensive care unit at a hospital in this northern Israeli town. The counter is jammed with stuffed animals, and balloons shaped like princesses float against the ceiling. A nervous, silent father hovers over his injured daughter.
But he and the girl are Syrians, spirited across the border by the Israeli military for medical treatment unavailable amid the civil war at home. He is silent because he cannot speak Hebrew, nervous because his presence in Israel, Syria’s long-time enemy, could place his family in danger if his trip is discovered.
He came to the hospital six days ago, following after his daughter. He refuses to say how he arrived, and hospital staff step in quickly to deflect questions about the journey. He has no contact with his family at home. All of this, he says, is worth it.
“For my daughter, I’m willing to do anything,” said the father, who, like his 12-year-old daughter, could not be named because he fears repercussions in Syria. While he was grateful for high-quality medical care, he was visibly afraid of the potential consequences of his trip, speaking in one-word answers and keeping his eyes lowered. He checked footage filmed by an AP Television News crew to make sure his daughter’s face was obscured.
On both sides of the Syrian civil war, militant groups like Hezbollah and fighters linked to al-Qaida are virulently opposed to Israel’s existence. The Syrian regime itself is a longtime Israeli enemy, and its citizens are banned from travel there, facing possible jail time if they are discovered. The two countries have fought two wars, and Israel has annexed the Golan Heights, a plateau it captured from Syria in 1967. President Bashar Assad and his late father Hafez, the former Syrian ruler, have used their anti-Israeli stance as a source of legitimacy and have hosted and funded anti-Israeli militants. Generations of Syrians have grown up under propaganda vilifying the Jewish state.
All of this means that the father’s presence in Israel could mean trouble for his family back home from any number of groups. Those fears, said Dr. Zonis Zeev, the head of the children’s ICU at Western Galilee Medical Center in the city of Nahiriya, are often the hardest for the patients to overcome.