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Hadassah Hospitals Central Figures in Six Day War

40th Anniversary of war is 40th anniversary of return of Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus
Genever McBain

40th Anniversary of war is 40th anniversary of return of Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus

(New York, NY -- May 14, 2007) -- Israel’s hospitals have always been central to its war efforts, but probably no other hospital figured as largely in the early years of the state as Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus. The upcoming 40th anniversary of the Six Day War is also the 40th anniversary of the return of the Mt. Scopus hospital to Hadassah’s hands as a vital medical facility in service of the Jerusalem public.

On April 13, 1948, during the War of Independence, a convoy of medical personnel taking supplies to the hospital (opened in 1939) was ambushed and massacred by Arab attackers as they climbed Mt. Scopus. After a fierce day of relentless attack - during which British mandatory troops refused to intervene until the very end - 78 doctors, nurses, and other personnel, including the hospital’s director, Haim Yassky, were murdered. They had risked their lives for the patients because supplies and food were low in the face of severely limited access to Mt. Scopus. Following this devastating massacre, it was determined that keeping the hospital open was too dangerous and it was closed in May, 1948.

It was to lie dormant for the next 19 years - defended by a UN-monitored garrison of Israeli policemen and civilians to ensure that no one entered the abandoned and desolate buildings. On June 6, the second day of the Six Day War, the Israel Defense Forces recaptured Mt. Scopus. And on Friday, June 9, permission came from the IDF for a Hadassah delegation to visit the ruins of the once thriving hospital.

Their first stop was at the site where 78 men and women had been murdered. After saying a memorial prayer, the group proceeded to the hospital’s roof, where they raised the Hadassah flag. On June 21, then-National President Charlotte Jacobson received the keys to the hospital from IDF Commander Menachem Scharfman.

The Hadassah National Board in New York - in consultation with the government of Israel - soon decided that the hospital would be renovated and expanded and that a major portion of it would be used for a rehabilitation unit for war wounded. Meanwhile, at sister hospital, Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, which had been opened in 1961 following 13 years of Hadassah patients being housed in temporary quarters in downtown Jerusalem, hundreds of war wounded were treated by medical personnel working around the clock.

According to notes made at the time: “Within four days, 985 patients, 50 of whom were Jordanian prisoners of war, had been treated….Eight casualty teams worked incessantly, preparing the wounded for the operating theater….310 operations were performed in just over 60 hours and, thanks to the remarkable dedication of the staff, the death toll amongst the 985 patients was limited to 11. Of 60 soldiers who received eye injuries, not one lost his sight.”

Past National President Rebecca Shulman, was in Jerusalem during the Six Day War and went to the Ein Kerem hospital with then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, who addressed the staff: “On behalf of the mothers, wives and sisters of the wounded, I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done and are doing to treat them and to bring them back to productive life. I want to add that I am speaking too for the relatives of the wounded Arab soldiers.

“God knows that in our hearts, we have no hatred for the Arabs, and I hope that we can work out some system of peaceful co-existence for the benefit of both peoples. The proof of this lack of hatred is the extreme care that is being given to these Arab prisoners of war here in Hadassah. I am sure that the same spirit can prevail and be extended to all our relations in peace time. The common bonds of humanity bind all people.”

Today, Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem still treats all residents of the region, without regard for religion, ethnicity or politics. It is the most advanced medical center in the Middle East. Hadassah University Hospital on Mt. Scopus is the largest hospital in eastern Jerusalem, serving the citizens of the capital city and its neighboring communities.

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