Thanks Due to a First Responder

Last night, I was driving with Elie (as in HE was driving and I was along for the ride). As we were climbing up to Jerusalem, I noticed red lights up ahead – cars were stopping. As it turned out, we were only moments after a bad accident; Elie was the first medic on the scene.

Later we would analyze our thoughts about how the accident happened. What was clear at the time was that the second car had slammed into the first car with enough force as to crush the back of the car into the rear seat – all five of the occupants were injured, as well as some in the second car.

Later, as we discussed it, it seemed likely that the cars were speeding; likely that the first car slammed on his brakes assuming the second car would back off in whatever game they were playing. Obviously, there was a miscalculation on someone’s part and the second car slammed into the first, destroying both cars and injuring many of the passengers.

Elie was the first to realize it was a car accident as we approached the red lights and cars began switching lanes to avoid the mess. As others moved to the right to avoid; Elie moved the car far to the left and pulled behind a car, as close as possible to the center divider and went into action.

In seconds, Elie had gotten out of the car, grabbed his emergency vest, and had put a flashing light on the top of his car. The first things I noticed as Elie walked from the car towards the gathering crowd were:

  • At least a dozen, and perhaps as many as 20 men were standing around at least 2 cars.
  • Some of the men were screaming at each other, almost all were clearly upset.
  • A number of men were sitting on the road with their backs against the cement divider; I couldn’t tell if there were 3 or 4.
  • As the men were shouting in Arabic, it became clear to me that they were all Arabs. 

Without hesitation, Elie walked into the midst of the Arabs to check on the injured. He was completely surrounded and I was completely terrified. Call it prejudice; call it what you want…a day earlier, the IDF was mobilized in a desperate attempt to locate a missing soldier. He had not returned home and his family was afraid…apparently with due cause.

Tomer Hazan, only 20 years old, was abducted and murdered by an Arab named Nadal Amar. What is particularly upsetting and sadly not surprising, was that Nadal and Tomer worked together at a restaurant and Tomer was not afraid of him. They agreed to share a cab ride home – Amar lived in a village some distance away. The plan was for the two to share a cab to a mutually beneficial point where  from there, Amar would return to his village and Tomer would continue to his parent’s house for Shabbat.

Nadal Amar had other ideas. He decided to kidnap Tomer and hold him hostage to demand the release of Amar’s brother, a Fatah terrorist. The army tracked Amar to his village, where he admitted that he had murdered Tomer and hidden his body…I guess he never planned to release Tomer, even if Israel had agreed to some trade.

No, I didn’t feel calm watching Elie move into that crowd, never mind kneel down on the ground with his back exposed to more than a dozen Arabs. Tomer’s murder is yet another reminder that even if you live and work with someone, it is possible that he will feel it proper and acceptable to do you harm…at least according to Amar and too many others who share his philosophy on life…and death.

Obviously, Elie was well aware of what was happening behind his back; he knew that he was surrounded and the Arabs were close on his back. I was already called on the phone with the ambulance services to report the incident; and as Elie had instructed when he left the car, I told them to also send the police; that my son was a medic and he was alone in a crowd of Arabs who were angry and yelling at each other.

Elie quickly checked the men on the ground, then stood and turned to face the men behind him. From the distance, I could see him arguing with the men…he indicated that he wanted them to back up. Clearly, they weren’t listening. I was torn because I knew that this was not a case where my getting out of the car would help the situation and Elie would think me insane if I thought I could do anything to help.

Some of the Arabs started screaming at Elie. I saw him put his hand near his gun, but he never drew his weapon. His message was clear. I watched as Elie turned and came back closer to the car, out of the crowd. The majority of the men stayed with the cars and the injured, a few broke into smaller groups. Elie made a phone call as he approached and then stood talking on the phone for a minute. Then he came to talk to me for a second – all the time, we both were keeping our eyes on the Arabs in front of us.

Elie told me that he had told them to back off and when they didn’t, he explained that if they didn’t back off, he was not going to help. He is a trained medic, but was there completely as a volunteer.

In a minute, I’ll tell you what I was feeling; for now, I’ll tell you what happened. Despite being repeatedly told that Elie would not take care of the injured until they moved away and gave him some room, the Arabs refused to back off and continued to yell at Elie and at each other.

I heard Elie tell the Arabs that we had called ambulances and police. When I saw the Arabs yelling at Elie, I called the police again. By this time, Elie was standing near the car explaining to me what the situation was. Two men came forward, again asking Elie to please take care of the wounded, and again, Elie told them to move the crowd away and then he would be happy to help.

I believed that there was a clear and very real chance that there could be violence and Elie was alone out there.

At one point, an Arab shouted that Elie only treats Jews. I was so angry at that comment – it was so unfair. Over more than a decade of volunteering, I believe Elie has helped hundreds of people, perhaps more. A fair and proportional amount of  that number were Arabs. I remember Yaakov and Elie telling me stories of their running to various parts of the Old City to help Arabs in need. The accusation that Elie only treats Jews, that the Magen David Adom organization would allow him to operate as a medic if he did such a thing was as unfair as it was inaccurate.

I was terrified that Elie would give in. Another medic stopped and climbed over the divider and began to check the wounded as Elie had. He too was surrounded; Elie went to him and explained that he thought it was not safe and the medic agreed.

The second medic also told the Arabs to back off – and again, they refused. At that point, the medic spent half his time demanding the Arabs move away and half his time working with the injured. Elie helped a bit, but more stood back a bit as a guard. His gun never left its holster, but I believe his stance was clear.

Around this time, after I had called the police again, begging them to hurry up, I heard the sirens…first a police car, a second one. Then Border Guards. They came in, moving their guns in front of them and I felt so much calmer. Order/normality seemed to be restored and Elie and the medic concentrated on the injured.

To be honest, I wasn’t impressed with the police – they failed to move the crowd away. It was the Border Guards that moved people away just as the ambulances began to arrive.

Three ambulances arrived. One of the wounded had a head injury another had something weird with his pulse and Elie and the medic were concentrating on these two. Once the ambulances pulled into place and the crowd was out of the way, things moved very fast. The most injured passenger was quickly loaded into a Magen David (Jewish) ambulance and taken to Hadassah Ein Kerem – a hospital that handles more severe traumas. The most lightly injured was loaded into the Red Crescent (Arab) ambulance; the others were taken by additional Israeli ambulances – all went to Israeli hospitals, where they would be treated by Israeli doctors and nurses (some of whom might be Arabs).

Once Elie saw that things were being taken care of and that there were enough people to see to the wounded, he told them he had to go and the police moved his car so we could leave.

I left the scene torn between anger and frustration. I could see the way this could be twisted by some idiot media – Israeli medic refused to treat Arab injured. And I could see the reality – that this so easily could have escalated into violence with my son in the middle.

Elie felt that the Arabs themselves were seconds away from coming to blows when we arrived and that in some way, our arrival turned their attention back to the wounded. I believe, given the way the Arabs were screaming at each other and based on the threatening way they were moving towards each other, that this estimate was correct.

It amazed me how the Arabs continued to scream at each other, trade information about the accident, etc. while the injured lay there on the side of the road. Once the police and border guards were there, the same Arab that had been yelling at Elie, now helped Elie treat the injured.

Now, many hours later, it still amazes me how they refused to back off and how they dared to harass someone who had stopped voluntarily to help them. It will take me a long time to forget the sight of Elie’s hand twisted towards his gun as he argued back.

I was sorry we had stopped to help and at some point, I’ll be sorry for the feeling that I was sorry. For now, I return to the simplest of concepts. Much of how we behave is a product of our culture and the society in which we are raised.

I cannot imagine being involved in an accident and being part of a scene such as I saw last night. I cannot imagine not backing away if asked by someone who had stopped to help. They were frustrated that the ambulance had not yet arrived – and yet, why was it that I was the one who reported the accident, long moments after it had happened? Why did they scream at Elie?

According to a friend who works with the police – it took less than 10 minutes for the police and ambulance to arrive – it is, without question, a good 5 minute drive from Maale Adumim, longer from inside Jerusalem.

No, the response time was not unreasonable – though it felt like forever as I watched my son enter a crowd of angry men.

No one thanked Elie for what he had done, for stopping to help others. That was wrong and not normal compared to the society I live
in, the culture in which I raise my children.

Our first responders are amazing – I am sure that most often they are thanked for their time, their effort, their caring. Elie wasn’t thanked last night and it is to the shame of those men last night, that not one thought it special that a Jew stopped in the middle of the highway, delayed his plans, to stop and help. Shame on them…

Below is an amazing video of a song written and performed by Dave Carroll, about these “everyday heroes”. This video is often in my head (and in my DVD player as I drive to clients) and I thought of it as I was writing this.

When people in the world need savin’
The saviors who answer the call
Don’t get paid anymore for danger
Or get to pick the one’s they want
They just go to where the few will go
To maybe lay it all on the line
Just to do their job, do it one more time

Cause they made a promise and here they come
Someone hurtin’ called 9-1-1
And the siren’s saying hope is on the way
There’s a hero racing to help a stranger today

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