Smadar Ocampo is a tough woman. She has had to be: as head nurse in the paediatric surgery department at Israel’s Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, she sees heartbreaking scenes daily involving children, and it is important for her to keep it together — both for the parents and the children.
But even Ocampo was reduced to tears recently in the wake of a long and unexpected relationship with a patient, the result of Israel’s life-changing decision to help Syrian men and women who come to the northern border asking for medical help.
Ocampo acknowledges right from the start that she never expected to meet, let alone become friends with, a Syrian woman. But the two met in the paediatric ward where the Syrian woman’s son was being treated.
“When we met, my friend was very frightened because she had been taught terrible things about Israel,” Ocampo explains.
“However, she had more recently heard that Syrian children were receiving medical treatment here, so she came to try to find a cure for her one-year-old son, despite her fears.
“When they arrived, he was swollen like a balloon and couldn’t even open his eyes. At the time, she herself was towards the end of another pregnancy. As I and others cared for her child, she began to trust us and relax”.
In simple Arabic, Ocampo began to talk to the Syrian woman and explain her son’s condition. The boy’s kidneys were failing and he was likely to need a transplant.
Day by day, the mother and son grew used to their surroundings, beginning to trust the Israeli medical staff.
Smadar says: “My friend was living in my department and we spoke to each other as if we were neighbours”.
The two had many personal discussions, some of which Ocampo felt were surreal as she absorbed the fact she was having conversations with someone whose country regarded Israel as the ultimate enemy.
The Syrian woman gave birth to her second child and Ocampo went to visit her in the Nahariya hospital’s maternity ward. And there Ocampo learned that the Syrian woman had named her new daughter Ismador, the Arab version of her own name, so there would be a permanent reminder.
Smadar Ocampo cried. “I’ll keep thoughts of her and her children in my mind and heart forever,” she says.
- A film made by David Cohen with Jenni Frazer, Love Your Enemies, about the medical treatment given to Syrians by Israel, will be screened in Westminster next week