Swords Of Iron

140th day of fighting

Ariel HaCohen, a senior EMT and ambulance driver

Ariel HaCohen, a senior EMT and ambulance driver who saved lives while his own life was threatened

At 6:45 am I was woken up by warning alerts from my MDA app reporting missile fire and irregular activity in the Negev Region. At 8:30 the dispatch center asked me to drive to Be’er Sheva with Avia Goldstein and Chaim Rubin in the MICU ambulance, Negev 72, that has bulletproof windows.

As we drove, we kept hearing sirens and more reports of irregular incidents came in but we still weren’t able to fully understand the extent of the situation. All three of us are religious orthodox Jews and since it was Shabbat we didn’t watch the news. As we arrived at the Be’er Sheva station we saw lots of army forces. We immediately realized that having so many people in such a small space is going to be dangerous if a missile strikes or even just shrapnel falls. To protect against that we continued further to a different neighborhood. Before we got there, a report came in of three gunfire casualties and we were asked to drive to Revivim junction with the Yerucham MICU and a MDA helicopter. We started to get an idea of what was going on and we received a bit of information about the battles going on in the towns near the Gaza border but we really didn’t know what was lying ahead.

We arrived at Revivim just as the MDA helicopter landed. That is where we treated and prepared the casualties for evacuation. Then we cleaned the ambulance from the blood. The rest of the day we didn’t bother with that anymore.

We left back for Be’er Sheva. At the Tze’elim Junction we heard Menachem Blumenthal on the MDA radio. He had just finished a 24 hour shift with MICU Negev 93 and was requesting that a senior EMT join him in Naveh. I calculated that we were closest so I contacted the dispatch center that cleared us to go to Naveh. Chananya Elmakays, Menachem’s ambulance driver, directed us to drive through the fields and stay off route 232 which was loaded with terrorist squads hunting and murdering dozens of civilians.

In our normal ambulance positions, Chaim is behind the wheel, while Avia the paramedic and myself as EMT treat the patient in the back. But this was not a normal situation and we were probably going to be treating casualties with very severe wounds. We decided that Chaim and Avia, both paramedics, would be in the back treating and I would drive. We even talked about splitting up, if the situation will call for that, so that Chaim and I would stay in our MICU and Avia would take an ALS kit to a regular ambulance making it an advanced ambulance.

As we drove through the fields we began to understand how bad it was. The terrorists were everywhere. Chaim and Avia who were armed had drawn their guns. I sectioned the area so that Chaim sat at the back looking out for anyone attacking from behind and Avia and I scanned ahead. During the ride we tried to determine what we would do if we encountered terrorists.

None of us knew the way and it turned out that we arrived at Pri Gan while terrorists were attacking them and there was a battle going on. Miraculously, the dispatcher realized this and about 300 meters before we reached Pri Gan, dispatch warned us to turn around and head to Naveh. This was a huge miracle.

At the entrance to Naveh we met a man from the emergency squad who directed us to the town’s Beit Midrash. When we arrived we saw 9 casualties. Together with Menachem and Chananya’s team, and another ambulance, Negev 611 driven by Akiva Shabbat from Shlomi, we transported 2 casualties at a time to an IDF helicopter that was waiting in Naveh. We took them to the helicopter, loaded them on, and as the helicopter lifted off we headed back. We couldn’t return the same way we had come. Menachem guided us somehow, because by then that route wasn’t safe anymore…

A few minutes later a Commando soldier passed by us who had been heavily shot by terrorists but somehow got away. We made plans to stay at Naveh and the soldier stayed, guarding us.

We set up a triage and treatment area in the Beit Midrash where casualties would arrive. We gave them first response treatment and assessed their condition and then categorized them: an area for mildy injured, moderately, seriously and deceased, for those who didn’t make it. After 20 or 30 minutes the first casualty arrived. A soldier who was no longer alive. We examined him and with an aching heart pronounced his death and placed him in the deceased area.

Thirty minutes later we got a report from the emergency squad members of a casualty in serious condition on his way to Bnei Netzarim. We decided Menachem’s team would stay and our team would be the mobile team. We left with an escort of two emergency squad members and another soldier in our vehicle. At that point all of the security was on the shoulders of the emergency squad since the army hadn’t arrived yet.

We reached the clinic in Bnei Netzarim and found a casualty from Kerem Shalom. He had held their safe room’s door shut with his hands when the terrorists put a grenade at the door and he was severely wounded by the explosion. He had tourniquets on both his arms and his right arm was in extremely severe condition. His face was severely injured as well. It was very medically challenging to treat him, because the wounds to his arms meant access to his veins was severely limited. The paramedics tried to reach a vein in every possible place, from his feet to his neck, fighting for his life. During this time, another casualty arrived in serious condition as well.

I contacted the dispatch center asking for a helicopter but the dispatcher said the MDA helicopters were already heading to hospitals with other casualties. They connected us to the Air Force’s center, but they were concerned that their helicopters might be shot at while landing. The MDA dispatch center promised they are trying everything to get a medevac flight for the wounded. Meanwhile, another seriously wounded soldier arrived. He was shot in the head and the pelvis. We fought for his life, we did everything. Sadly, he didn’t make it.

At some point, a MDA helicopter arrived in which were the paramedics Ziv Shapira and Moshe Tzalach. We loaded the casualties on the helicopter after we had provided them with life-saving treatment including plasma transfusions that aided their survival. We went back to Naveh where we treated casualties until they were all evacuated. That process went on from Saturday to Sunday at 16 o’clock when then the army made a civilian evacuation convoy and we went back to Otniel at Har Hevron.

Throughout the day I felt no fear. In the middle of an incident, on the battlefield, you just don’t think about it. In a cold calculation we understood that we would probably be encountering terrorists but we were focused on our goal of saving lives so I didn’t feel any fear. I could see the same determination in the eyes of the other team members. At night the fear finally arrived. We were set up in a house in Naveh, but when I finally fell asleep at 00:30, I was woken up two hours later by a report from the emergency squad of another suspected terrorist infiltration. Another report came in at 4 am. That was when I started feeling fear.

Everyone got up and was updated. I was unarmed, a fact that didn’t help the fear, which was accompanied by a feeling of frustration. I’m a combat soldier and I knew what to do and how to do it, but I simply didn’t have what to do it with. We made the house dark, turned off all of the ACs and overall tried to make the house look deserted. Chaim and I sat in the dark kitchen, saying Tehillim by the light of the oven’s digital clock.

I learned in yeshiva in Otniel, I was an IDF soldier in Judea and Samaria, I have been shot at and have been in situations supposedly ‘more dangerous’ than this. I didn’t delude myself that as a medic I was any safer than a civilian. I knew who these people are. None of the ethics of the International Convention interested them unfortunately. I didn’t think that because I a wearing a MDA uniform, which is a part of the Red Cross, I am protected. But I couldn’t ever imagine a situation as the one I was in.

I remember all of the casualties we treated, and I’m updated on the condition of all of them. Thankfully, all of them, except the first two who we received in critical condition, survived. Still, two of them stand out for me particularly vividly. The first is one of the casualties from the first trip to the helicopter, an emergency squad member from Kibbutz Shlomit named Oz, who arrived together with his friends at the neighboring village, Pri Gan. He was shot in his thigh and I remember transferring him from the Beit Midrash in Naveh to the ambulance and then driving him to the location of the helicopter. During the transport, I talked to him just a tiny bit. Maybe a minute of “How are you? How are you doing? What’s your name?” not as a medical question, but as one human being to another. Putting everything behind for a moment and talking to the person in front of you, the man behind the injury. Unfortunately, I don’t remember most of the details. Only that his name is Oz and that he is married. Later I saw him in the news, being interviewed. It was very moving.

The second one I can vividly remember is the first soldier that arrived at the Beit Midrash in Naveh, the one who didn’t make it. He arrived unconscious so we couldn’t make contact with him. Yet his face was smiling, and so boyish. That got etched in my memory. His combat partner brought him to us and everyone went towards the casualty, but I went to his partner and gave him a big hug and told him they’re safe now. I saw in front of me a 19 year-old who brought us his best friend, his combat partner, the one he practically lives with and can recognize the smell of his socks. He brought him wounded and unconscious. Then he left on the vehicle he arrived with. I don’t know who he is, I can’t remember his name. He probably returned right back to combat, not knowing that as he pulled away we were pronouncing his friend’s death. I do remember the name of the wounded soldier, the one who sadly didn’t survive. His name is Natan Chai Liyar, may his memory be blessed, from Netanya. I wanted to go to the Shiva but I couldn’t manage it, physically or mentally. Those are the two especially etched in my mind.

We did what we needed to do. We strived for contact, reached the wounded and provided treatment. We weren’t protected but we didn’t do anything spectacular, and I’m not being modest. We did what was expected of us as emergency medical teams. We found ourselves in a completely new situation and we had to immediately manage the scene in the field. We reinvented the rules. We functioned well, and even when we ran out of medicine we managed to treat and aid the casualties. You can always ask yourself “what if” but I know that we gave the best treatment that we possibly could.”

As a final note, Ariel asks to talk about the inspiring way his friends functioned: “Menachem was amazing. He managed a team of medical personnel and all of the patients in an incredible way. Also, as a resident of the area, from Kibbutz Sa’ad, it was his own friends he had to treat and he did so with great professionalism. He is an outstanding person, I am proud I could work beside him, I was awed by his capabilities. Chananya and Akiva as well- they handled the evacuating operation for casualties in Pri Gan. It’s an honor to work with them. In my eyes, and this is important for me to say, we did what was expected of us as a medical team. Be’ezrat Hashem, we will rise up from this, we will rise and grow. This is a step on the way to that. ”

 

 

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