'Syrians Think the Worst of Israel. Until They Receive Israeli Medical Care'

Departures/Arrivals: The professional pursuits of these three Israelis have taken them around the world. But they’ll be back.

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
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Efrat and Liran standing together in the airport's arrival hall.
Efrat and Liran. 'I come to Israel to see people. That’s what energizes me.'Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Efrat Litany, 26, lives in Cape Town, South Africa, arriving from Johannesburg; Liran Yehezkel, 26, lives in New York, arrived from there the previous evening

Hello, can I ask where you’ve arrived from?

Efrat: We were supposed to land together, yesterday, but my flight was delayed.

Liran: But everything ended well.

Efrat: I even enjoyed myself. I got a hotel in Johannesburg and met a girlfriend.

Liran: I hid in my parents’ place for 27 hours and waited for you.

Why did you wait like that?

Efrat: Because it was a surprise. We decided suddenly that we had to go home.

Liran: We coordinated it.

Efrat: Even my parents didn’t know I’d arrived. I don’t like it when people know I’m arriving, and I don’t like it when they know I’m leaving. It stresses me out mentally. The last time I came to Israel, it was the middle of the night. I went upstairs, got into pajamas, and in the morning I went down and asked Mom what there was to eat.

Did you grow up in the same neighborhood?

Efrat: We’ve been friends from home for years. We both grew up in Rishon [Letzion] and we’ve both been abroad for a few years.

Liran: We’ve been friends forever, more or less, since we were 15.

What do you do abroad?

Efrat: I went to amazing Cape Town for a few months and fell in love with it. I sell massage devices from carts in malls; I have a work permit. It’s a cool medical product, a little like going to a physiotherapist, only in miniature – for personal use.

Is it hard work?

Efrat: It’s tough psychologically, more than physically, even though I spend a lot of hours on my feet. Mainly because you have to work on yourself, to convince yourself, to believe, to want to succeed. To envision the goal. The money we make is the means, not the end.

What is the end?

Efrat: For things to be easy and good for me here in Israel. To save up some money so I can do what I want to do. I lived a bourgeois life in Israel for two years, I started studying for a bachelor’s degree, but I want a little more than that.

Liran: I’m an entrepreneur. I have a startup called Cable Box, which is an Internet platform for television services for independent creators. I’s a little like VOD, but in our case the platform sends you the content. I served in the army’s film unit and I worked in films and in television, on reality shows, as a troubleshooter. I know photography and editing and technical work. When I moved to New York over 4 years ago, I launched the startup with partners. Entrepreneurship demands a great deal of determination. In the meantime I work mainly in photography and video productions for the money. You survive, you do what you have to.

Will you stay abroad?

Liran: We’re young, why not spend our twenties devouring the world? It’s a certain stage of life. If you go when you’re young, you will return; if you go when you’re older, it probably means you didn’t find yourself in Israel. I’ll want to get married and have children in Israel. I was one of those who complained about the country. I took it for granted.

Took what for granted?

Liran: The people. We complain that we’re shits, but there’s no unity like what you find on the Israeli street.

Efrat: Over there, it’s every person for himself.

Liran: And there’s no sun, either – 6 A.M., 9 A.M. There’s no sun. The apartment is always dark. Only in the summer, there’s an hour when the sunlight comes in, at an angle.

Efrat: No matter how many people you’re surrounded by, you feel as if you’ve taken loneliness on yourself.

Liran: I come to Israel to see people. That’s what energizes me. I have friends in New York each of whom is from a different place, and none of them has this need to return home.

When did you last see each other?

Liran: A year ago, in Israel. But you know, you’ve really changed. Your hair’s more blond.

Efrat: Yes, it’s new.

Liran: And you’re using eyeliner now, too.

Efrat: I don’t know what I think about the fact that you noticed that I’m using eyeliner. (They laugh)

Jonathan. 'I treated the wounded people from Syria, which was an amazing experience.'Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Jonathan Margalioth, 23, lives in Milan; flying there

Hello, can I ask you where you’re going?

Back to Milan after a home visit in Ra’anana. I’ve been a medical student in Italy for a few months.

You couldn’t get into med school in Israel?

I tried. I made one attempt and saw that it’s really difficult, but I decided that I want to study medicine all the same. I’m happy to be studying what interests me. It’s a formative experience, even though you miss home and all that. I love Israel and I want to live here, and I believe that I’ll be coming back for the fourth year of school.

How does that work?

If you score above 700 in the psychometric test, you can go back to Israel for the fourth year and do the clinical stage in Safed.

What do you want to specialize in?

I have six years to make a decision; I’m thinking in the direction of surgery.

Was it hard to be accepted in Italy? And how do you manage with the language?

I’m in a kind of international program where the studies are in English and there are students from all over the world. The truth is that I find it hard to learn Italian, and I don’t have a lot of time. The first years are very difficult. I have to be in class at 9 A.M., five days a week, and I have nine different courses, until the evening hours. I get back for dinner with my roommate – she’s studying medicine, too – and that’s the end of the day. There’s no time to work; my parents are supporting me financially.

Why was it so important for you to become a physician? Are your parents doctors?

I have an uncle who’s a doctor, but that isn’t the reason. During my army service in the Paratroops, I did a paramedics’ course. Then I did a squad commanders’ course, and afterward wanted to keep going in the paramedic direction. The unit has a battalion paramedic, who is a company sergeant. In that capacity, I treated the wounded people from Syria, which was an amazing experience. It interested me, I saw I was good at it, and decided that that’s what I want to do.

Who are the wounded people from Syria?

I don’t know how much I should say about the subject, even though there was a newspaper article about it. It’s known that Israel treats wounded Syrians. Some are rebels and some are civilians, and they can’t go to regular hospitals because the hospitals are affiliated with the government and these people won’t get treatment there. Israel offers humanitarian assistance. We collected them near the border and gave them first aid. There’s always a doctor and paramedic there. They’re taken to a hospital and after being treated, they’re returned to Syria.

So you actually were ordered to treat them.

It was an order, but I was happy to do it. Some were very badly hurt, even shot in the head, and one time they managed to bring in someone who wasn’t wounded – he had cancer. One time there were little girls; one of them had lost a hand and the other had shrapnel in her back.

Wasn’t it a traumatic experience for someone your age?

By the time I started treating them, I was already a commanding officer and had been in the army longer. It wasn’t traumatic, it was formative. It was good both in terms of helping them, which is always positive, and also in terms of doing real medicine. We bandaged them, we stopped bleeding, we used tourniquets, we gave them fluids. It was full treatment, what you do in emergency medicine.

How did the wounded people react?

I don’t speak Arabic, but I understood from facial expressions and sounds they made whether they were satisfied. They were quite cooperative. They’re checked to make sure they aren’t armed.

Aren’t they shocked at being treated by soldiers?

I thought that was great. That’s what was terrific. They come from Syria, where they’ve been told for years that Israel is the enemy, and then their government hurts them and it’s Israel that treats them. They are told terrible things about us, and then they see soldiers opposite them, the worst symbol of all, and those soldiers bandage them and save them.

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