The re­al­ity of be­ing a Druze physi­cian in Is­rael

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By YAAKOV BAR-ON

“The IDF Medic’s Oath is paramount,” says Col. (res.) Dr. Sal­man Zarka, the di­rec­tor of Safed’s Ziv Med­i­cal Cen­ter, who lit a torch at this year’s In­de­pen­dence Day official cer­e­mony in Jerusalem. “We have a fun­da­men­tal obli­ga­tion to carry out the hu­man­i­tar­ian treat­ment of peo­ple who’ve been wounded in the Syr­ian civil war, de­spite all the com­plex­i­ties in­volved. As it is writ­ten in Pirkei Avot: ‘In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.’

“When the de­ci­sion was made to build a mil­i­tary field hospital on Is­rael’s bor­der with Syria, I was hon­ored to be cho­sen to lead the mis­sion to­gether with my col­leagues from the IDF Med­i­cal Corps,” Zarka con­tin­ues.

Zarka, 55, was born in Peki’in, a mul­ti­cul­tural vil­lage in the Galilee, the fifth of eight chil­dren.

“I grew up in a very poor fam­ily,” Zarka de­scribes. “My fa­ther could barely read and my mother was il­lit­er­ate. But they did un­der­stand that their chil­dren would need to do well in school if they wanted to make a name for them­selves in so­ci­ety.

“My fa­ther would show me his hands, which were cal­loused from years of hard manual la­bor. ‘Your hands will not look like mine,’ he would tell me. But I did help him with his plas­ter­ing and tiling dur­ing my breaks be­tween semesters. I think one of the rea­sons why he let me help was to let me ex­pe­ri­ence what manual la­bor is like, which would con­vince me to study hard and suc­ceed in hav­ing a pro­fes­sion.”

Zarka stud­ied medicine at the Tech­nion-Is­rael In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in the IDF Atuda pro­gram.

“My fa­ther was very proud of me, but was al­ways ask­ing me, ‘When will you come back to work as a doc­tor in our vil­lage?’ That never did happen, but I do feel like I came full cir­cle when I ac­cepted the po­si­tion as di­rec­tor of Ziv, since there we did of­fer health ser­vices to peo­ple from Peki’in. I hope that my fa­ther is cur­rently look­ing down upon me and feel­ing proud.

“When I fin­ished my stud­ies, I served as a doc­tor in the IDF and later was pro­moted to head of med­i­cal ser­vices for North­ern Com­mand. I was plan­ning to spe­cial­ize in gy­ne­col­ogy at [Haifa’s] Ram­bam [Med­i­cal Cen­ter], when some­one con­vinced me to go into hospital ad­min­is­tra­tion in­stead. I had been very ex­cited to work as a clin­i­cal doc­tor, but in­stead I moved to Jerusalem and com­pleted a mas­ter’s de­gree in health ad­min­is­tra­tion. This was very fit­ting for me since I felt very com­fort­able work­ing within the IDF.”

Is manag­ing Ziv Med­i­cal Cen­ter much dif­fer­ent from be­ing a med­i­cal com­man­der in the army?

“Well, I do some­times hear peo­ple mak­ing com­ments here and there about how my hospital is run with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion. Or­der is very im­por­tant to me, and I be­lieve I must demon­strate this by per­sonal ex­am­ple. But don’t worry, I don’t make all the hospital em­ploy­ees stand at at­ten­tion each morn­ing.”

Zarka is not an anom­aly. There seem to be more and more Druze en­ter­ing the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion. Dr. Tarif Bader, who is Druze, is also a chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer in the IDF.

“We’re sim­i­lar to the Polish in this re­spect – we’re al­ways talk­ing about medicine,” says Bader hu­mor­ously. “I’d love to see even more Druze adapt them­selves to the mod­ern age and en­ter the hi-tech sec­tor, not just medicine.”

When I ask Zarka about the Na­tion-State Law, his tone drops a level.

“Even if the goals of the law are im­por­tant for the Jewish state, it seems to me that Is­raeli lead­ers missed the mark,” re­sponds Zarka. “I feel just as Is­raeli as I do Druze. I don’t think the gov­ern­ment meant to say to me, ‘You are no longer a first-class cit­i­zen.’

“Is­raelis will never for­get that the Druze made a critical de­ci­sion when they sided with the Jews in 1936 when ri­ots broke out. We felt a deep con­nec­tion with the Jews as a per­se­cuted mi­nor­ity. I am so proud that Druze lead­ers ap­proached Ben-Gu­rion after the War of In­de­pen­dence and re­quested that Druze chil­dren be re­quired by law to serve in the IDF, and not just as vol­un­teers.

“I don’t think that after go­ing through so much to­gether, the law meant to call us sec­ond-class cit­i­zens.”

Do you feel like a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen?

“I do feel a lit­tle pinch in my heart. I feel my Is­rae­li­ness very deeply, es­pe­cially after hav­ing served in the IDF for 25 years. I’ve trav­eled abroad as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the State of Is­rael to talk about how great our coun­try is. But I’m wor­ried about the younger gen­er­a­tion, who might feel more con­flicted than I do, and be per­suaded by all the BDS pro­pa­ganda. Both of my sons serve in the IDF – one is in Unit 8200, and the other one is in a cy­ber unit. They never con­sid­ered not join­ing the army. But I’m wor­ried that the next gen­er­a­tion might feel con­flicted.

“My daugh­ter Yara, who’s 12, be­gan study­ing at the He­brew Reali School of Haifa. I want her to have all the same ben­e­fits as Druze men do. Druze women on a whole are bet­ter ed­u­cated than Druze men, which many times has led to di­vorce. The ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem in Druze vil­lages is very good, but I wanted her to learn in the best school pos­si­ble. I also want her to be as Is­raeli as pos­si­ble.”

Will she serve in the IDF?

“Druze women are ex­empt from serv­ing in the IDF. If Yara de­cides, when she turns 18, that she wants to en­list, then we will con­sider the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of such a de­ci­sion, since Druze marry only within their own com­mu­nity. Druze women carry out na­tional ser­vice. I’m con­cerned that the Na­tion-State Law will in­flu­ence these de­ci­sions.”

Zarka lives in Us­fiya with his wife, Ra’uda, a so­cial worker and fam­ily and cou­ples ther­a­pist. Ra’uda works in the De­fense Min­istry’s Be­reaved Fam­ily Depart­ment.

“My wife does in­cred­i­ble, holy work that’s more im­por­tant than any­thing I do,” beams Zarka. “I fol­lowed her here, which I guess makes me an Ashke­nazi Druze, as Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ger­shon Ha­co­hen once told me. I feel just as much at home in Us­fiya as I did in Peki’in.”

What are your hob­bies?

“I’m an am­a­teur car­pen­ter. I also like to read books, play bas­ket­ball and go run­ning. I’m cur­rently train­ing to com­pete in a half marathon.”

Dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge in 2014, Zarka served as com­man­der of the IDF’s Med­i­cal Ser­vices.

“I was in charge of all treatments along the Gaza bor­der,” Zarka re­calls. “We re­ceived orders to set up a mil­i­tary field hospital at the Erez cross­ing, but then Ha­mas is­sued in­struc­tions that any­one who re­ceived treat­ment there would be killed. Nev­er­the­less, some Gazans did ap­proach us for help, and so we ended up treat­ing the en­emy, as well.”

What do you wish for?

“My dream is that there will be peace.

“I felt like maybe this dream was be­gin­ning to come true when we started treat­ing Syr­i­ans. These peo­ple had been taught by the As­sad regime that Is­raelis were like Satan, but their im­age of us changed while they were be­ing treated. After a few days, they would be­gin to smile, say ‘Good morn­ing’ in He­brew. More than once I heard some­one say, ‘You are more hu­mane than our peo­ple are.’

“My hope is that the seeds of hope that we’ve planted will one day bloom and reach out to us in peace. Maybe one of the chil­dren we treated will grow up to be pres­i­dent of Syria, and will re­mem­ber our humanity.”

Were you sur­prised to be picked to light a torch on In­de­pen­dence Day?

“To­tally. I was not ex­pect­ing that at all,” ad­mits Zarka, ob­vi­ously a man of deeds who’s not used to be­ing praised. “I didn’t even know my name had been sug­gested when I re­ceived the call from Min­is­ter [Miri] Regev.

“I was so thrilled to get to say the words, ‘And to the glory of the State of Is­rael,’ to rep­re­sent my coun­try, and to par­tic­i­pate as a proud mem­ber of the Druze peo­ple.”

(Aloni Mor)

COL. (RES.) DR. SAL­MAN ZARKA, di­rec­tor of Ziv Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Safed.

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