One of the greatest challenges of a medical corps team member is to care for captured and wounded enemy soldiers. I served as an army medic during the 1967 Six-Day War in the battle for Jerusalem and as a battalion physician in the 1973 Yom Kippur War in the Sinai. In both wars I cared for many wounded prisoners.
The Six-Day War broke out two weeks before the end of my last year at Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. I had worked as a nurse in the emergency room of Hadassah University Hospital for two years, and I was stationed at that hospital when the war started. I also went out with the ambulances to evacuate the wounded to the hospital and cared for them during the ride.
During the first 72 hours we took care of over 500 wounded soldiers and civilians, among them many Jordanian and Egyptian prisoners. All the wounded received the same care. For me, they were humans in need of medical attention.
Watching my medical school teachers and the medical teams at Hadassah fight for the lives of men who were fighting against us set an ethical standard I adhered to when I became a physician.
As a battalion physician in the Yom Kippur War, I took care of several wounded Egyptian soldiers, providing the same level of treatment I gave my own injured men. Even though I had mixed feelings about treating enemy soldiers, my natural instincts and years of medical training urged me to help them to the best of my ability.
I could not deny my animosity toward the enemy, but I overcame those misgivings in the hope that our captured soldiers would be treated as well as we were treating the Egyptians. Caring for these enemy prisoners humanized our adversary, and I felt inner satisfaction that I could honor the sanctity of the human life.
An experience with an injured Egyptian fighter pilot was particularly memorable. As I mended his broken leg and bandaged his burns, he showed me a photo of his family. His two young children were the same ages as my children. I realized that he just wanted to see them again.
I could see the fear in the eyes of many of the wounded prisoners when I approached them. I wondered whether their fear was based on what they would have done to me if I had been a prisoner of war. I also assumed that years of anti-Israel propaganda depicted us as monsters.
Most of the soldiers were tense throughout the treatment and seemed in disbelief as we treated their wounds. I was proud that I could overcome my anger and treat them as I would have wanted to be treated. I knew that as a Jew and as a medical professional it was my duty to do so.
The medical corps of the Israel Defense Forces has always provided medical care for all injured soldiers. That is one of the core values of the IDF and is spelled out in the oath taken by all the physicians in the medical corps.
This policy is being implemented today as the IDF runs a field hospital near the Syrian border to care for victims of the civil war in that country. Though there is an official state of war between Syria and Israel, over 3,000 injured and sick Syrians have been treated at the hospital.
It is my hope that the wounded enemy soldiers and civilians we cared for in 1967 and 1973, like those today, have served as emissaries for peace and reconciliation after they returned home. I hope their testimonies have advanced the cause of peace.
Itzhak Brook served as a medic in the Six-Day War and as a battalion physician in the Yom Kippur War. He is a professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University, a speaker for the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the author of “In the Sands of Sinai: A Physician’s Account of the Yom Kippur War.”