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Pool at Ashkelon Holiday Inn
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

View of Ashkelon
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


By Rhonda Spivak, November 15, 2009

[Editor’s Note: This was written shortly after visiting Ashkelon in Aug. 2008] 

Ashkelon-In Ashkelon’s Holiday Inn, most of the visiting foreigners were Jews from France who had come to Israel for their “grand vacance.”  But, elsewhere five minutes away at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital, there were some very unusual foreigners who had come for a rather unexpected stay.

Following  violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza in late July,  Israel took the unusual step of allowing Fatah gunman who had been viciously injured by  Hamas to  find refuge in Israel.  Israel allowed at least 12 of these gunmen to be treated at Barzilai Hospital on humanitarian grounds.   Ironically, Israelis witnessed the rather remarkable scenes of Fatah gunmen from Gaza sitting up in their hospital beds and telling Israeli television crews that they were thankful that the Jewish state had been there to save them.  

As I happened to be in Ashkelon in August 2008, I went to Barzilai Hospital, and immediately noticed a security guard standing on the hospital roof.  Another security guard unsuccessfully tried to prevent me from taking a photo of the hospital. Presumably, Israel wanted to make sure that the Fatah gunman being treated there were not attacked by  Hamas infiltrators or Israelis who felt that their country ought not be a refuge for Fatah gunman.

On the streets of Ashkelon, every Israeli I spoke with had an opinion on whether Israel ought to be providing medical care to Fatah gunmen. While the Olmert government saw this step as a means of providing support for PA chairman Abbas against Hamas, critics of the move thought the move would only strengthen Hamas claims that Fatah has become little more than a puppet of Israel.

Shlomi Dan, a security guard who lives in Ashkelon, expressed opposition to providing these men with medical care.

“Fatah and Hamas are the same thing.  Both are terror organizations.  Statistically, in the last 10 years Fatah has  injured more Israelis than Hamas in terror attacks. If these people [being treated here] are so important to the Palestinian people, then Egypt should have opened its borders to them.  They should be treated in Egypt not here,” he said.

Hanoch Melanick, a taxi driver in nearby Kiryat Gat said  “We are Jewish and we take pity on others, so we treat them as human beings.  If it was us who had to go be treated in a Gaza hospital, they [the Arabs] would kill us.” 

Another  taxi driver, Rami Kakoofi said “Our  humanism will cost us dearly.  We always manage to keep our enemies on their feet… I am not sure that they [the Fatah gunmen] will appreciate being treated here.  After we treat them we should arrest them and put them in jail because of all of the terror that Fatah has committed against us.  But in Israeli jails they would live better than they do in Gaza.”

But Shimon Azar, a security guard at the Holiday Inn in Ashkelon, felt differently.  “They are human beings, like me. If there is a possibility that they can come here and get medical treatment then let them, even if they could have been treated in Egypt.”

Eyal, another young man from Ashkelon, said “I’m not so happy about Fatah men being treated here.  Would you like it if Al-Qaida men were in your hospitals in Canada?”

Elana Davis, an Ashkelon waitress who has lived in Ottawa said she has really mixed feelings about treating Fatah activists in Israel.   “I was raised not to hate them  [Palestinians].  Not everyone is a bad person.  But I have friends in the army who were killed by Fatah or if not killed, injured for life.  If you ask soldiers about treating Fatah here, they are angry.”

Several Ashkelon residents also expressed reservations about what will happen to the Fatah patients after they are treated at Barzilai hospital.  As Melanick said “ What happens after they leave the hospital?  We have to send these Fatah gunmen to Jericho because we can’t send them back to Gaza, where they would be immediately killed.  ”

One thing has emerged very clearly from the incident, about which there is no disagreement.  The clashes proved that Hamas has strengthened its control over the Gaza strip and there has been an almost complete elimination of Fatah’s presence there.

 As one Fatah gunman,  28 year old Madachat Shachtah,  who was being treated at Barzilai told  the Hebrew  daily Yediyot Achronot, “ There is only one solution to the problem:  America or Israel or the Arab states must conquer Gaza and kick out Hamas and then we can go back to our homes and live in peace.  The Jews have pity on us.  They are human beings.  Even though today we are enemies we can live with them nicely as neighbors.”

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.