Caring for Enemy Soldiers a Fundamental IDF Value

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 over Jerusalem and as a battalion physician in the 1973 Yom Kippur War in the Sinai Desert. In both wars, I cared for many captured and wounded enemy prisoners.

The Six Day War broke out two weeks before the end of my last year at Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. During the first 72 hours we took care of more than 500 wounded soldiers and civilians, among them many Jordanian and Egyptian prisoners of war. I cared for many enemy soldiers and struggled to save their lives.

For me, they were human beings 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 for me that 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 them with the same level of treatment that I gave my own injured men. Even though I had mixed feelings about treating the wounded enemy soldiers, I saw them first and foremost as human beings in need of help.

Caring for these enemy prisoners of war humanized our adversary to me, and I felt inner satisfaction that I could still honor the sanctity of the human life, a value with which I had been raised.

Many of these wounded soldiers were visibly scared when I approached them. I wondered if their fear was based on knowing what they would have done to me should I have been a prisoner of war. I also assumed that years of anti-Israeli propaganda depicted us as monsters.

Most of these soldiers were tense and apprehensive throughout the treatment and looked in disbelief as we worked to care for their wounds. I was proud that I could overcome my anger and treat these individuals as I would have wanted to be treated in a similar situation. I knew that as a Jew and as a medical professional it was my duty to do so.

It is my hope that those wounded enemy soldiers and civilians that we cared for in 1967, 1973 and today have served as emissaries for peace and reconciliation after they returned to their homes. Hopefully, their testimonies have advanced the cause of peace.

Itzhak Brook is a professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University.

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