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Pregnant Syrian woman travels to Israeli border, gives birth in Israel

by Simone Wilson

November 3, 2013 | 7:00 am

Israeli doctors transport a Syrian patient from the IDF ambulance to the emergency room. (Photo courtesy of Ziv Medical Center)

The oddest-case-scenario came true in the wee hours this morning at Ziv Medical Center, located in northern Israel near the Syrian border: A 20-year-old Syrian woman gave birth to a healthy, 3.2-kilogram baby boy.

The woman is one of over 450 Syrians who have been treated in Israel so far this year. But unlike the others, said Ziv Medical Center spokesman Gil Maor, this young patient hadn't been injured by a bomb or sniper fire. 

"She’s a nurse in Syria," said Maor. "She lives near Quinetra, and since the area is being sieged, she couldn't reach a hospital — that’s what she told us. And there were no midwives who could help her. Because she's a nurse, she knew that [injured] Syrians were coming to Israel. So she said she’d try her luck to reach the border and try to get picked up by the IDF."

The woman succeeded, and — after being picked up at the border and rushed to Ziv in an IDF ambulance — she gave birth to her firstborn at 3:11 a.m. today.

According to a hospital press release, the woman said the following of her experience (roughly translated from Hebrew):

"There were no village midwives who could help me deliver. I am a nurse by profession, and I knew that Syrians were treated in Israel. ... So when I felt that labor had begun, I quickly brought myself near the border, in hopes that the Israeli army would allow me to get medical assistance. Fortunately, the Israeli army saw that I was suffering from severe pain, picked me up and took me to a hospital in Israel. I was afraid to come to Israel, but I was more worried to lose my baby during a home birth. The obstetric team and Israeli doctors treated me with respect and sensitivity and the birth was uneventful. I really do not feel like I'm in an enemy country; everyone is helping me and cares about me.

... For a long time we have been fed mainly rice in the village, due to the closures. This is the first time in a long time that I have eaten meat and vegetables. I feel good and I am relieved that I can eat and feed my cute little baby. My treatment is great. I thank everyone for the devoted care, concern and understanding."

The question at the back of everybody's mind: Will the child be considered an Israeli citizen? The issue did come up in an interview for my L.A. Jewish Journal cover story this week, "Wounded Syrians find care in Israel that is no longer available at home." Sara Paperin, international liaison at the Western Galilee Medical Center (a hospital in nearby Nahariya that is also treating Syrians), said one pregnant woman who was about to pop decided to leave the hospital before her older daughter had been discharged, specifically to avoid finding out what would happen if her baby was born in Israel.

However, Israeli immigration attorney Tamar Klarfeld said in a phone interview that the baby is "definitely not an Israeli citizen. Nobody gets Israeli citizenship unless they're born to Israeli parents." Concerning any problems the baby might have once he's back in Syria, Klarfeld said she couldn't give legal advice over the phone, but pondered: "I suppose [the mother] could say the baby was born in Syria."

Ziv spokesman Maor said the young Syrian woman who gave birth this morning was more caught up with "the normal concerns of every mother. She also came without the baby's father, so she didn’t have anyone to comfort her. And she told us that they don’t have enough food over there."

If the mother and child continue in good health, they will be discharged within the next two to three days, said Maor — at which point the IDF will come pick them up and take them back to Syria.

In a sidebar for this week's cover story, we described the spectacular medical exchange that the IDF is running between Syria and Israel, right near Quinetra:

When the IDF detects one or more war casualties approaching the new high-tech fence Israel built this year to keep out the flying parts of Syria’s civil war, “We open little passageways so they can come through,” the soldier said.

“We’re not allowed to cross the fence into Syria,” he said. “It’s a very gray area. And we can’t do it at night, because it’s too dangerous.”

Once the wounded are inside Israel, a temporary medical station is set up at the site of entry, and a handful of IDF doctors rush out to operate. From there, depending on the severity of the patients’ wounds, they are either released back to Syria, transferred to the IDF field hospital or transported via IDF ambulance to one of three medical centers in Israel providing more long-term care.

Update: Here's a photo of Israel's newest Syrian patient, taken by Hannah Bikel.

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