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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 24, 2003

Lest we forget

Personalizing the tragedy

Two and a half years ago lethal terror fueled by blind hatred was unleashed upon our people in this sparsely populated region of Northeastern Israel. After the past several weeks of relative calm we thought that the worst was behind us. This illusion was cruelly shattered.

Two dedicated and experienced surgeons; Dr. Doron Koppleman and Dr. Shmuel Yurfost, had worked together in Ha'Emek Medical Center's Surgical 'B' Department since the beginning of the intifada. Together with the accomplished physicians in Ha'Emek's Surgical 'A' Department (led by chief surgeon Dr. Yoel Syphon), as a team they saved countless lives and operated on many of the more than 700 victims who were senselessly struck down. Passing below their skilled hands on the operating tables have been innocent Jews and Arabs, women, children, men, soldiers, the elderly and even some terrorists. Beneath the sterile sheets all humanity is equal and our surgeon's mission in life is to heal.

Yesterday at noon Dr. Koppleman and Dr. Yurfost sat together planning the next day's surgeries. They parted with a handshake, a smile and an Israeli nod of the head. A few hours later, Dr. Yurfost himself was seriously wounded when another suicide murderer blew herself up at the entrance to a shopping mall in Afula - killing 3 and injuring scores of others. When the 48-year-old soft-spoken physician arrived in Ha'Emek's Emergency Room, covered in his own blood, nobody at first even recognized him. Only when he spoke and asked about his eyes did the horrible reality become apparent. Our beloved surgeon lost one eye and the fate of his other eye is in question.

His colleague and friend, Dr. Koppleman, was aware of the ensuing tragedy when he was operating on the young woman security guard who blocked the path of the murderer. For the next eleven hours Dr. Koppleman struggled to mend her broken body, working through the tears, tears for Dr.Yurfost, for the young woman and for our people.

She Knew What Questions to Ask

Ha'Emek Medical Center, Israel's Hospital of Peace, is still reeling from yet another terror atrocity what we have come to refer to as mass-casualty events. Yesterday afternoon a suicide killer struck at the entrance to Afula's shopping mall, taking with her 3 innocent lives and sending more than 70 injured to our hospital. One of the most critically injured was Hadar Gitlin, the 21-year-old female security guard who blocked the terrorist's path with her own body at the entrance to the mall. This is her story, as told to me by her mother.

It was Hadar's second day at her new job as a security guard. Having recently joined the swelling ranks of the unemployed, the young woman could not bear the thought of sitting at home doing nothing. The company responsible for the mall's security needed women as well as men and Hadar eagerly took the job. Her mother, Sarah, suggested that she look for something less threatening, but Hadar was confident and enthusiastic to work.

Hadar responsibly closed her mobile phone during work hours and she was to finish her shift at 16:00. When Sarah could not reach her earlier that day, she left Hadar a message saying that their car was parked close by and for her to drive it home. Hadar was to be relieved at 16:00 by another guard, but due to an unforeseen delay she needed to stay on for a while longer. At 17:00 the terrorist struck.

At 17:10 her mother heard on television the first report about an attack in Afula. Knowing that Hadar finished work at 16:00 she was not particularly worried. When there was no answer on her daughter's mobile phone she was sure that was due to weak batteries and that Hadar was on her way home. They live about twenty minutes from Afula. When at 18:00. Sarah had still not heard from her daughter, she asked a friend to see if their car was still parked in Afula. It was and just after that they heard on the radio that a female security guard was killed in the attack.

Mother and father were then together and desperately seeking information at the scene of the bombing. The special police task force set up at the mall had no definitive facts and someone then told them that they heard that 'a woman' had been rushed to Rambam hospital in Haifa. When they spoke with Rambam by phone they were told that their daughter was not there. That is when they came to Ha'Emek to face their fate.

A social worker accompanied the distraught parents to a private room and showed them a ring that was taken from a female victim who was the in surgery. It looked familiar but they could not be sure. Any identifying clothing or papers did not survive the blast. At 19:00 a friend escorted them to the waiting area outside the operating room and volunteered to go in and see if Hadar was there. When the chief surgeon, Dr. Doron Koppleman, heard that the parents had arrived he immediately went out to speak with them.

During the next 10 hours of surgery, Dr. Koppleman periodically came out to update Sarah and her husband as to Hadar's condition. Her mother seemed to know exactly what questions to ask and focused on the most critical aspects of her daughter's health. They trusted and believed in the gray haired surgeon with warm sympathetic eyes.

At 05:00 this morning with the highly complex operation completed, a tired Dr. Koppleman sat with them in the corridor. Hadar's condition was critical and she was on her way to our Intensive Care Unit. He was curious to know how Hadar's mother knew what questions to ask. Her unemotional answer was, "In 1995 Hadar's older sister, Mor, was critically wounded in the devastating double terrorist bombing at the Beit Lid intersection. You see, doctor, I've been here before".

Larry Rich, Ha'Emek Medical Center