While IDF (Zahal) soldiers were having lunch, terror suddenly struck at the Israel-Egypt border. Medical Officer (res.) Reuven Haber was part of the rescue team.

The Sinai Peninsula has become the new wild west: a place rife with criminals, terrorists and smugglers. Soldiers on Israel’s southern border are always aware of these threats, but in September 2012, members of the Caracal battalion were surprised when they were called upon to respond to an attack on Israeli soil.

The attack occurred next to the border, where construction workers were building a new and more secure border fence. Simultaneously, a group of refugees from Africa were being transferred into Israel for humanitarian purposes. Three terrorists managed to sneak into the group and began firing. During the attack, two IDF (Zahal) soldiers were shot and more danger was still possible. While soldiers from the Caracal Battalion worked to contain the strike, a team of medics arrived at the scene in a matter of minutes and went to work treating the victims. One of the victims, Corporal Netanel Yahalomi, succumbed to his wounds shortly after the attack.

Rescue In the Battlefield: An IDF Doctor on the Israel-Egypt Border

Illustrative photo: IDF (Zahal) Paramedics during a training exercise.

Caracal Medical Officer Reuven Haber headed a team of paramedics responsible for treatment and evacuation. Their job requires them to treat patients quickly and prepare a helicopter to evacuate them. Medical Officer Haber, an already successful doctor, had arrived to the unit just two weeks before the border attack.

When he arrived at the scene, Medical Officer Haber realized that the situation was extremely different from anything he had experienced before. “What we do in the field is to take patients and, at best, to stabilize them. We do any basic treatment that you can do involving bandages, tourniquets, chest strains … things you can do in a few minutes,” Medical Officer Haber explains. “The best thing you can do is get them to a hospital.”

Getting to a hospital for Caracal means getting to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, a two-hour drive or 40 minutes by helicopter. In the best-case scenario, explains Haber, the patient can reach the hospital an hour after the first call.

Rescue In the Battlefield: An IDF Doctor on the Israel-Egypt Border

Illustrative photo: IDF (Zahal) Paramedics during a training exercise.

The process is extremely difficult for paramedics who are alerted to the scene of an attack, since there is only so much they can do for a victim with the limited resources of a first-responder team. As Medical Officer Haber puts it, in an emergency situation, “there are things even the best doctor in the world can’t do outside of a hospital setting.”

As a doctor, Medical Officer Haber has an obligation to treat any patient — even smugglers or terrorists trying to harm Israel. As an officer, he says that the experience of treating soldiers is very different, and especially difficult emotionally. “It’s a lot scarier being with soldiers because [they were not injured] because of any criminal act. They were there defending the country and got shot.”

Rescue In the Battlefield: An IDF Doctor on the Israel-Egypt Border

Illustrative photo: IDF (Zahal) Paramedics during a training exercise.

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