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Israel's blunder in saving the life of October 7 mastermind

Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Palestinian Hamas Islamist movement in Gaza, speaks during a meeting with members of the the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, in Gaza City, April 30, 2022. (Photo: Attia Muhammed/Flash90)

It’s a well-known fact that some of the people who hate Israel the most are the same ones who end up checking into Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center for state-of-the-art medical treatments, and that is because Israel’s policy has always been to treat terrorists and victims alike. One example was PLO senior leader Saeb Erekat, who, when he contracted COVID-19 back in 2020, chose to go to Hadassah rather than a Palestinian hospital. 

Although “he spent his career lying about Israel and smearing it as a nation of oppressors and war criminals,” he, nonetheless, felt that it was “the best place in the region to seek help.” Of course, he was graciously accepted as a patient with no strings attached. He is not an anomaly. Many other enemies of Israel have not been refused treatment in Israeli hospitals.

But, among all those cases, nothing tops the galling reality that Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar’s life was saved as a result of Israeli doctors who operated on his brain tumor in 2006, at a time when “he was serving multiple life sentences for the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1988.” He was later released in a 2011 prison swap for Israeli hostage, IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. 

Israeli military spokesperson Lt.-Col. Richard Hecht believes that although Mohammed Deif, head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, put the Oct. 7 plan into action, that it was Sinwar who was “the brain of the plan.”

Today, Sinwar is in hiding, knowing that he is Israel’s most wanted man. But from his unknown whereabouts, he is still said to be calling the shots on what happens to the remaining hostages who are still languishing somewhere in or near Gaza. It is through his negotiations that a 3-for-1 deal was gained for Palestinians, but if anything goes wrong – as it threatened to just recently when there was a delay in releasing the prisoners –Israel will resume the war, an act which could cause Sinwar to lose face before his people who were counting on their relatives and friends being released from Israeli jails.  

In such an event, if the Israeli military goes forward with its plan to decimate the terror group, ordinary Gaza residents may begin to lose faith in a leader who promised them the moon but will, in the end, deliver a complete flattening of the area they once called home. That’s when they might finally wake up and see that Sinwar has only brought them devastation and loss. 

The brutality of Sinwar, rivaling ISIS, does not deserve the kindness that he received from Israel at the time when he stood to die. But herein lies the heroic portrait of the Jewish nation – a country that is willing to actually save the life of the very person who then turned around and became responsible for the brutal murders of over 1,200 Israelis and foreigners. 

Is it time to change that policy? Is it even morally or ethically feasible to continue such a preposterous pattern? One senior Israeli physician who recently treated a terrorist who participated in the Gaza attack did so while, at the same time, calling him the “essence of evil.” His position was that “when terrorists come to the hospital in dire need of medical attention, the course of action should be straightforward; provide treatment. The legal system can determine their fate afterward.”

But the absurdity of the situation wasn’t lost on Israeli Health Minister Moshe Arbel who, on Nov. 8, decided that “treatment for terrorists would cease.”

At that point, terrorists were simply transferred to the Israel Prison Center. The decision was apparently made due to this type of unprecedented attack in the history of Israel, as well as the size and scope of what was perpetrated.  

While this type of moral dilemma presents a question of ethics for healthcare providers who are duty-bound to render assistance to those in dire medical need, one would think that a line must be drawn for the medical treatment of someone bent on not only murdering you – once he’s physically able to do so – but also committed to annihilating every man, woman and child who constitute your people. 

The doctor, to his credit, said, “If I don’t provide him with medical care, I am no different from the people of Hamas.” However, knowing what we know today, he might feel as though his generous humanitarian effort, although well-intentioned, in the end, made it possible for the slaughter of so many innocent people who should not have had their lives cut short due to one evil lunatic who would not be alive today had it not been for this overly merciful doctor.

But it was not only the act of one doctor that enabled Sinwar to survive. It was also thanks to the collaborative effort of other staff members, who were obliged to provide his follow-up care. In the case of the terrorist who took part in the Oct. 7 massacre, the nurse who attended to him, including cleaning up his soiled diapers, was asked how this made her feel. She responded by saying, “This is undeniably one of the most challenging tasks I’ve ever faced as a nurse. What provided me with solace was the knowledge that once he recovers, he will be thoroughly investigated.”

The ultimate decision made by Jerusalem’s foremost hospital, Hadassah Medical Center to refuse treatment to terrorists, came at a time when they were treating “more than 130 wounded from the south, including entire families in every ward.” Consequently, they decided that treating terrorists would “offend national feelings.”

There is no question that this complex issue is one that elicits strong feelings and emotions from a wide variety of people. Yet, the Physicians for Human Rights Israel organization has called it a “disgrace to Israel” that hospitals would refuse to treat “an injured person” and that the Health Ministry supports this position.”

Perhaps they might feel differently if their spouses or children were among those who were victims of the most barbaric attacks known to man.

One thing is for sure, though, Yahya Sinwar didn’t make any effort to become a better person after receiving a second shot at life through the hands of an Israeli doctor. Instead, he squandered the gift of extended days by using it to end the lives of others in the most brutal way.  

While it’s too late for that to be rectified, he should consider the likelihood of his meeting up with the Righteous Judge, probably sooner than later. When that happens, no one would be keen on trading places with the man who will be judged for having lived up to his name – Sin and War! 

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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