The per­son­nel of Is­raeli emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vice Ma gen David A dom were once again in the news this week fol­low­ing a fa­tal shoot­ing at a Tel Aviv bar. Rosa Do­herty joined an MD A team for a shift in the city

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - NOGA GODEIN

IT IS less than 10 min­utes since Ye­hu­dit called for an am­bu­lance af­ter her 87-year-old hus­band, Avi, com­plained of “chest pain” and “ir­reg­u­lar puls­ing”. Now Ye­hu­dit paces anx­iously around the liv­ing room of their Tel Aviv home as three Magen David Adom paramedics ad­just more than a dozen wires af­fixed to the chest of Avi, who is slumped in his arm­chair.

This is one of the many emer­gen­cies per­son­nel of the na­tional am­bu­lance and blood bank ser­vice at­tend ev­ery day — the an­nual to­tal is 650,000 — from peo­ple taken ill at home to terror at­tack vic­tims. Un­like in the UK, or pretty much any­where else in the de­vel­oped world, the med­i­cal team is likely to be com­prised of vol­un­teers.

Just 10 per cent of those MDA calls upon are paid, ex­plains Ido Golan-Gutin from the char­ity’s fundrais­ing and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions depart­ment. The ma­jor­ity of the 12,000 are “ev­ery­day Joes and Janes”.

One of those “Janes” is Roni Shis­gal, 20. Preparing an in­tra­venous line to en­ter Avi’s arm, she re­as­sures him: “It is to give you a shot of adren­a­line.”

Ms Shis­gal was just 15 when she went out on her first shift. “It is what we do,” she says mat­ter-of-factly. “Go­ing into the am­bu­lance ser­vice is like a club. It is part of how we socialise and how our so­ci­ety works.”

Hav­ing spent two years in the army, she is work­ing as a vet’s as­sis­tant while “de­cid­ing what I want to do with my life. I used to do three or four shifts a week. But now I have a full-time job, I only do one or two.”

She adds, laugh­ing: “Can you think of any­where else in the world where this would work?” Whereas young peo­ple else­where were think­ing about univer­sity or clothes, “in Is­rael we have other things to think about”.

At­tend­ing to Avi is the first call of Ms Shis­gal’s 12-hour shift. Once his con­di­tion is sta­bilised, she and her two col­leagues put him on to a stretcher and into the back of an am­bu­lance do­nated by UK Friends of MDA.

Con­tri­bu­tions from the UK — where £3 mil­lion is raised an­nu­ally — and other in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ties are cru­cial as MDA does not re­ceive state sup­port. Mr Golan-Gutin ex­plains that “while treat­ment and am­bu­lance call outs are cov­ered by Is­rael’s health in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and tax peo­ple pay out of their wages, we rely on fund­ing from the di­as­pora. We get roughly 100 mil­lion shekels [£17 mil­lion] a year through char­ity. “They buy our am­bu­lances, our uni­form, the blood cen­tres. We are very lucky be­cause with­out that we wouldn’t be able to func­tion.”

Ms Shis­gal says that MDA’s equip­ment “is still the best. Ev­ery am­bu­lance has a GPS fit­ted. The dis­patcher knows which am­bu­lance is un­der his re­spon­si­bil­ity. If we are on our way back from some­where and we hap­pen to be near an emer­gency that isn’t in our ju­ris­dic­tion, the dis­patcher can see it and send us there.

“We can send real time up­dates of the pa­tient to the hos­pi­tal, so what you see the hos­pi­tal can also see. They know what to ex­pect. And ev­ery dis­patch cen­tre also has an in-house doc-

We couldn’t func­tion with­out aid from over seas

tor who can see the real time sta­tus of the pa­tient. It means they are on hand to the team to give ad­vice about the pa­tients if needed.”

The driver on Ms Shis­gal’s shift is Harel Sas­son, 27, one of MDA’s paid staff. Turn­ing on the flash­ing lights, he zigzags at speed through the Tel Aviv traf­fic as trainee para­medic Yoav Lei­bovitz, 25, mon­i­tors Avi’s con­di­tion.

“Some­times the most ef­fec­tive treat­ment we can give some­one is to get them to the hos­pi­tal in the quick­est time,” Mr Sas­son says as the ve­hi­cle mounts a pave­ment to break through the grid­lock. “There is no of­fi­cial train­ing for driv­ing an am­bu­lance and you can see peo­ple here don’t move out of the way. I don’t know what it is with Is­raelis.”

For Mr Lei­bovitz, the shift is part of a train­ing process he hopes will lead him to be­com­ing a mil­i­tary para­medic. He says his MDA du­ties are preparing him for a job in com­bat zones.

“It is a fact we have terror at­tacks ev­ery day. Our friends have been at­tacked at­tend­ing calls. And with the stab­bings hap­pen­ing now, it is good for us to see first-hand, so when we are in the battlefield we know how to deal with things.”

Two weeks pre­vi­ously, he had treated a young woman in Jaffa who had been shot in the chest dur­ing a fam­ily dis­pute. He man­aged to keep her alive but she later died in surgery. “When she passed away, the doc­tors came out and talked to us. You ob­vi­ously think: ‘Is there any­thing you did wrong?’ We talked about it and we agreed we did ev­ery­thing we could and I’m okay with it.”

It was hard not to be emo­tional in such cases “but we can deal with it. We have each other to speak about what hap­pens.”

Asked if he is ever scared, Mr Leibo- vitz replies: “Of course we have to con­sider our own safety. When we go to a house, we have to see what it is like. In the case of Avi, we can see it is a reg­u­lar house with no threat. But some­times we call the po­lice be­fore we go in­side.”

Be­cause of army and MDA com­mit­ments, he has not had the op­por­tu­nity to go to univer­sity but has no re­grets. “Other peo­ple do not need to fight for their in­de­pen­dence in their coun­try. Some peo­ple need to be the ones who take care of the peo­ple in their coun­try. That is us and we are proud to do it.”

In five years, Ms Shis­gal has seen “ev­ery­thing from sui­cide to car ac­ci­dents. But for me, the worst thing is the so­cial cases.

“Med­i­cally you might treat some­one and they are okay but they live in a one bed­room house and it is dirty and in a ter­ri­ble con­di­tion. They have no money and they are alone.

“My mum says I’m a robot. I come back and tell her about the things I’ve seen, peo­ple get­ting stabbed, and she is like: ‘How are you okay with it?’

“But she doesn’t worry about me do­ing this job. She wor­ries about a lot of things, but not that one.”

It is MDA pol­icy to pri­ori­tise those in the great­est med­i­cal need and there was out­rage when Is­raeli me­dia re­ported that MDA staff gave life­sav­ing treat­ment to a ter­ror­ist be­fore the Jewish vic­tim.

“Some­times it is the ter­ror­ist who has to get the treat­ment first,” Mr Lei­bovitz ac­knowl­edges. “Do I want to treat him? No, but I have to and I do. And I do my best to save the life of who­ever I get to.

“I had to go to a stab­bing the other day. The vic­tim had been hurt in his arm — it was not life threat­en­ing — but the ter­ror­ist had been shot. So we went to help him first. You just get on with it.”

Mr Golan-Gutin notes the “back­lash from some peo­ple who don’t understand how you can treat a ter­ror­ist be­fore the vic­tim. But they have to understand we are not the judge and jury.

“This is a democ­racy. We don’t come to the pa­tient and say: ‘You are the Arab ter­ror­ist, you die.’ It is not for us to de­cide who gets treat­ment or not and that is the right way to look at it, even if it hurts.

“We have Arabs, Is­raelis, Druze, Be­douins, Chris­tians all work­ing to­gether. It is unique to us as an or­gan­i­sa­tion. It works be­cause ev­ery­body works to­wards one cause. It is a beau­ti­ful thing.”

Mr Lei­bovitz says that MDA also helps the Pales­tine Red Cres­cent, its equiv­a­lent in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries.

“We can’t op­er­ate there, but if a pa­tient needs to go to an Is­raeli hos­pi­tal, they come to the army on the border and we take the pa­tient for treat­ment. There is a lot of work­ing to­gether but peo­ple don’t want to see that.”

And Avi? He was fine.

Do I want to treat a ter­ror­ist? No, but I have to and I do

ON SUNNY FRI­DAYS, Dizen­goff Street, the heart of Tel Aviv’s proudly scruffy strip of cafés and sa­loons, hosts long af­ter­noons of cof­fee and light drinks that gen­tly carry its pa­trons to­wards a night of par­ty­ing.

Last Fri­day, the lan­guor was in­ter­rupted by the rat-a-tat of a semi­au­to­matic weapon that left two peo­ple dead and the city on edge.

Rain poured down on Is­rael over the week­end, so it was dif­fi­cult to tell if Dizen­goff was empty due to the weather or due to the terror, but all signs pointed to the lat­ter. Shut­tered lo­cales had hung no­tices of mourn­ing. Both Arab and Jews, it ap­peared, were too fright­ened to re­turn to work as the gunman re­mained on the loose.

Along the street, skit­tish women were buy­ing gro­ceries with their chil­dren, kept away from school. The Tel Aviv mu­nic­i­pal­ity re­ported that fully half of the school-age chil­dren from north Tel Aviv were ab­sent on Sun­day and Mon­day.

Ari Sa­muel, 29, an Amer­i­can im­mi­grant work­ing in ad­ver­tis­ing, said: “I think the per­sonal at­tacks are definitely dif­fer­ent to mis­siles. I’ve been here four years, and I’ve been through two wars with mis­siles, but not really gun­men shoot­ing up bars. Tel Aviv is a par­adise, an ur­ban par­adise, so when you live in a place like this you tend to forget where you are in the world.”

That lux­u­ri­ous calm seems to have been shat­tered, de­spite the fact that Fri­day’s at­tack was not the first in Tel Aviv since the surge of Pales­tinian violence be­gan in early Oc­to­ber.

At a vin­tage shop, Edna Banet, a Jerusalemite, ar­gued edg­ily with Elisha Regev, a col­lec­tor of Is­raeli ar­ti­facts from Her­zliya, about the re­ac­tion of Tel Avivis to the shoot­ing. “There was an at­tack in Tel Aviv, and now sud­denly you all take off,” she said. “We’ve been hav­ing at­tacks in Jerusalem daily. Yes­ter­day there were two stab­bings, and no one is say­ing a word!”

“In some way it has had an im­pact on res­i­dents and on ev­ery in­di­vid­ual,” Mr Sa­muel said. “Ob­vi­ously, it could hap­pen any­where in the world. It could hap­pen in New York, in Lon­don, in Paris, ob­vi­ously. But I think that peo­ple in Tel Aviv will prob­a­bly con­tinue as sched­uled. The city doesn’t really stop for that kind of thing.”

An MDA medic rushes to as­sist vic­tims of the bar at­tack in Tel Aviv


MDA paramedics deal with a pa­tient out­side a Jerusalem court


Yoav Lei­bovitz and Roni Shis­gal at the end of their shift in Tel Aviv

Avi , who has suf­fered chest pains, is wheeled into an am­bu­lance


Ne­tanyahu lights a can­dle at the scene of

the shoot­ing

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