Heroes on the mend at Sheba Medical Center - Tel Hashomer

Photo 1 - Staff Sgt. Dan Chemla with his mother, Helen. Photo credit: Gideon Markowicz
Photo 2 - 
Capt. Ran Ben-Attia with Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball stars Guy Pnini (center) and Yogev Ohayon

Heroes on the mend at Sheba

"I realized that if I didn't move, I would die, and that if they came to me, I would be putting other troops in danger. I pulled myself together somehow and crawled 20 meters backward, and the paramedics swooped down on me," recounts Capt. Ran Ben-Attia.

By Arale Weisberg, Israel Hayom, 25.7.2014

"Ophir, I'm at Tel Hashomer hospital. I was grazed by some shrapnel. Do you maybe feel like coming here?" the newly married Capt. Ran Ben-Attia asked his wife when he telephoned her last Saturday. Wounded in battle near Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, Capt. Ben-Attia, 27, lay in his hospital bed, his crushed arm bandaged, tubes all over his body.

Ben-Attia, an officer in the Nahal Brigade's HQ, was leading troops on a mission to search out tunnels and destroy them when a Palestinian sniper's bullet went through the palm of his hand, entered his thigh and reached his back.

"I found myself alone, exposed," he says. "I realized that if I didn't move, I would die, and that if they came to me, I would be putting other troops in danger. I pulled myself together somehow and crawled 20 meters backward, and the paramedics swooped down on me. I was afraid I might die from loss of blood. I felt that was happening. There was a lot of noise and smoke around, relentless fighting. I was in excruciating pain, and a helicopter came within minutes to get me out of there."

At the same time, Ran's parents, Tzipi and Shaul, were sitting in a cafe in Kfar Saba, celebrating the birth of their grandson.

"Tzipi ordered a cup of coffee and started crying," Shaul says. "I didn't know what had come over her. I was very worried about my son. I knew he would be among the first to go out to battle. I know the northern Gaza Strip very well -- I was in the same place as a soldier in the 1970s. But I didn't say anything to my wife. She's a worrier in any case."

The urgent telephone call telling them of their son's injury interrupted them, and they rushed to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. But Ran's older brother, Niv, was the only one who had a chance to see him before he went into surgery. Ran made sure to have his picture taken, smiling and giving a thumbs-up, so that his parents would not worry.

"I knew what they were going through, and I wanted them to relax," he says.

Ben-Attia was in Hebron recently, participating in Operation Brother's Keeper to find the three teens kidnapped and murdered in Gush Etzion. When the army began Operation Protective Edge, his battalion went south to Gaza, and it was only after going in that he began to grasp what awaited them there.

"At first, when we crossed the fence and went into Gazan territory, it looked like another training exercise. We felt they would be no match for us, that we were a lot stronger. But the next day, Friday morning, I realized what the difference was between Hamas and us. We saw an elderly man lying wounded on the ground with a bullet in his leg. I approached him to help him up. I stretched out my hand and touched him, and it was then I realized that there were grenades around and underneath him. We moved back, and then he came to throw the grenade at us. One of the soldiers reacted quickly and shot him. Then we learned that he had been 76 years old, and that he had already been in prison in Israel. The level of cynicism they can reach is just beyond belief."

Tzipi, who runs a kindergarten, sits in the hospital. At one point she disappears for a moment, going aside to cry by herself.

"I feel some relief," she admits. "I'm glad that he isn't disabled and that his wounds aren't any more severe. It could have been a lot worse."

Are you relieved that he is not fighting anymore?

"No, not at all. How could I say a thing like that? What difference does it make if it's my son in there or the neighbor's son or my friends' son? We are all at war," she says.

Just two months ago, Ran was at the Final Four in Milan. He was always a big fan of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team, and when he saw it advance to the Euroleague finals, he decided he had to be there. He got a ticket to the game at a moment's notice, bought a plane ticket, and persuaded his battalion commander to give him 24 hours' leave. That was how he got to see his beloved team win the cup and post a selfie of himself at the celebrations.

On Monday, he managed to grab another photo of himself before another operation, lasting 10 hours, that went into the next day. It was then that Ophir woke him; the Israeli players on the team, Guy Pnini and Yogev Ohayon, had come to visit him, bringing the cup with them.

"Suddenly I woke up and sat up energized," he recalls. "When they came into the room I sang the songs that we always sing to them from the stands. They were in shock. That gave me so much strength. I sang the Maccabi team songs even on the way into the operating room."

"We're used to having people treat basketball like some existential thing, talking about the games as if they were matters of life and death, to be or not to be," Pnini says. "But the meeting with Ran showed us what's really important. He is a real champion, and if we managed to cheer him up a bit, then we won."

Other visitors came to Ben-Attia's room in Sheba Medical Center's trauma unit. Government ministers, members of Knesset, high-ranking officers, fellow soldiers from the battalion, the helicopter pilot who flew him out of hell ("We agreed that one day I'd come on a run with him at the squadron") and another young visitor, his new nephew Harel, just 10 days old.

What is next? "I'm not thinking too far ahead," he says. "I've got a long rehabilitation in front of me. I'll have to have more operations, and it's going to take a lot of time. They haven't even managed to extract the bullet from my body yet. I can promise one thing: I'll be up to snuff for Maccabi's next Final Four."

A hug can be stifling, too

Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, more than 40 wounded people, most of them soldiers, have been treated at Sheba Medical Center. Hundreds of civilians have been visiting the various units, loading up the soldiers and their families with sweets, cakes, snacks, books of Psalms, balloons and flowers.

"Could it be that there's nobody in the streets?" some of the parents joked. "It looks like the whole country is here."

But even this loving embrace can be stifling.

"My son had more than 200 visitors today," one mother said. "Everyone comes with a good heart, wanting to give, and I feel like hugging each and every one who comes to us. We have a wonderful nation, and our soldiers are heroes, but at some point it becomes physically difficult. Some soldiers are going to be staying in the hospital for a long time, and others will need to undergo a long process of rehabilitation. When this war is over in a few weeks, they will be alone. That's when they will need this support and these visits."

A woman stands outside one of the rooms in the orthopedic unit. She is Iris Wolf, whose son, Staff Sgt. Roi Wolf, is trying to sleep, and she is using the time to put her thoughts in order. On Sunday, when the country was flooded with a wave of rumors from the battle in Shujaiyeh, she was worried. Her son is also in the Golani Brigade, and he was there, too. Roi's father, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Ofer Wolf, telephoned his sources in the army to find out whether his son was among the wounded. He was not on the list.

But the next morning, Roi's parents got the telephone call they had been dreading. Roi had been wounded in the arm by mortar fire.

"For 10 days I was on alert for bad news," says Iris, who lives in Reut. "Something changed inside me from the moment they went to the staging area. I can't explain it. I felt it in my body. My back seized up, I needed sleeping pills to fall asleep. On Monday I woke up at 6:45 a.m. and was surprised to see that I had three missed calls from a number I didn't recognize. I didn't need more than that to realize what had happened.

"I called the same number back, and when I gave my name the man on the other end said, 'I'm speaking from Tel Hashomer. Your son arrived conscious and he's in the operating room. Drive carefully.' I asked what his condition was, and they told me he was moderately wounded. It sounded like it wasn't too bad, like something very limited and contained in time, but it's not really that way.

"From the moment we got to the hospital, it was like we went inside a bubble. We aren't thinking about the war anymore, or about alarms... It's like there's no world outside. The operation was long -- it took five hours, and it was only in the afternoon that I saw Roi awake for the first time. He hugged my head with his good hand and said, 'Mother, I missed you.' He asked about his men who had been wounded -- Abed, Daniel and Bar."

When Roi's commander from the battalion came to visit him, he asked him, "Were you hit [by a mortar]?" Now his family is trying to start rebuilding their lives.

"He was supposed to be discharged from the army in three months, and he was already dreaming about taking a trip to Copenhagen and Thailand. Now he'll have to wait longer, and I hope we'll get to that point. Right now, he's settling for a shower and a small meal, getting through the day and getting to tomorrow. What more does one need out of life?"

'I tried to disconnect myself, not to think'

The Chemla family was living comfortably and tranquilly in Nice, on the French Riviera. But 18 years ago, they moved to Israel and settled in Zichron Yaakov. Dan, a combat soldier in the Nahal Brigade, was three years old.

At 11 a.m. last Thurday, Staff Sgt. Dan Chemla managed to call his mother to tell her that his cellular telephone was about to be taken away before the ground operation began.

"From the moment we were in the northern Gaza Strip, I had a weird feeling that everything was about to change. I couldn't explain it. ... I remember very well the moment I was hit. It was on Saturday. I got shrapnel in my abdomen and knee, and unfortunately, I didn't lose consciousness. The pain was horrific. I began running in circles and screaming until somebody grabbed me and started treating me."

His mother, Helen, hardly remembers the moment she was notified.

"Everything started whirling around. I didn't realize what was happening and I tried to disconnect myself, not to think about anything until I saw him. They couldn't even tell me if he was alive," she says.

When Dan opened his eyes for the first time after surgery, all he could say was "it hurts" in French to his mother and in Hebrew to his older brother, Bruno.

"I was sedated, on morphine," he recalls. "I remember seeing my brother crying, and then I fell asleep again. Then I opened my eyes again, and I remember seeing my mother standing in front of me, crying."

"The guys from the battalion are still inside, and I'm worried about them. The battalion commander called to ask how I was doing, and I told him to tell everyone to keep on working. I keep up with the news and I'm sure we will win. We weren't surprised by anything we saw in Gaza. We were prepared for everything that happened there."

Helen says, "Our relatives who stayed in France are going mad with worry. They call us all the time. When you're far away, everything looks much more threatening. We're inside it, so we're surviving. Just four days after Dan was wounded, I found a corner where I could be alone and I finally managed to cry."

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