Behind the Headlines the Unique Role of Israeli Doctors on the Front Line
Menu JTA Search

Behind the Headlines the Unique Role of Israeli Doctors on the Front Line

Download PDF for this date

Israel is unique in the proximity of its doctors to the front line — only 200-300 meters behind the lead tank or armored personnel carrier in a battle situation and possibly less if there is street fighting in a town — and in the number of its medical personnel per division, according to Brig. Gen. Dr. Eran Dolev, commander of the Israel Defense Force Medical Corps.

Dolev told foreign correspondents here yesterday that the IDF had two doctors and eight medical orderlies in a medical platoon at battalion level and a psychologist or psychologist-social worker at brigade level to deal quickly with cases of battle fatigue.

He said the medical battalion at divisional level comprised 550 doctors or medical orderlies, compared to only 135 in the Russian army and slightly more — about 180 — in the U.S. army. The Americans are about to increase their medical establishment to Israeli standards, as a result of the lessons of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he said.

Cases of bottle fatigue were treated in the field by the psychologist getting the soldier to “talk out” his problem. In most cases the man was back with his unit, operating fully, within 24-48 hours.


Dolev said that some 80 percent of the 1,570 wounded during the fighting had been evacuated to hospitals inside Israel by helicopter. “There was the closest cooperation between the Medical Corps and the Air Force. Any helicopter in the Air Force is available to evacuate wounded,” he said.

Surgical operations in the field were kept to the minimum and only six cases were carried out in frontline areas where it was a matter of life or death. Hospitals in Israel have reported that the excellent frontline first aid care and preliminary medical attention ensured that wounded arrived in safe areas in the best possible condition.

Dolev said that as a result of the Yom Kippur War experience most soldiers wore flak jackets which reduced body injuries but increased the percentage of head injuries. These had been especially great in numbers and in severity during the fighting in Nabatiya, Tyre and Sidon in the first days of the war where the PLO attacked Israeli forces with hunting rifle types of firearms using dumdum bullets generally utilized for try game hunting, Dolev said. Dumdum bullets were outlawed by the Hague Convention of 1899, he noted.

Burn injuries in tanks had been reduced by anti-fire gloves, but soldiers would have to be trained more to use their weapons while wearing gloves. The Medical Corps would also try to develop anti-bum masks to cover faces, Dolev said. He said he had issued standing orders to his Medical Corps to treat anybody in need of medical treatment — “not only our own soldiers but enemy, both Syrians and PLO, and local civilians.”


The chief army doctor said that at the request of the Health Ministry his medical teams had helped the local Lebanese doctors and hospital staffs to get themselves back to normal. “We are merely helping them to help themselves. Lebanon once had a good health service, but it was destroyed by the PLO which closed down many hospitals, stole supplies and equipment and instructed the doctors and hospitals who they should treat, on a party and political affiliation basis,” Dolev said.

He said the medical services in south Lebanon were already better than they had been when Israel first entered the area, and he hoped they would soon be back to their original “pre-PLO standards.”

Dolev confirmed reports that Israeli army doctors had found, in the “Palestine Red Crescent Society” hospital in Tyre, corpses tied to beds and drained of blood. Some still had tubing attached to their veins. Israeli papers have suggested the drained corpses were part of medical experiment in blood transfusions.

Reporters in southern Lebanon have noted that it was from the Palestinian hospitals in Tyre and Sidon that foreign doctors, including Norwegian, were detained for helping PLO terrorists disguise themselves as medical staff personnel or patients.

One of the Norwegian doctors has since charged he saw Israeli soldiers kicking Palestinians to death — a charge vehemently denied by Israeli doctors here and abroad, as well as by local Lebanese.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund