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Middle East conflict: Israel's raging paramedic


A network of volunteers in Israel saves lives every day - at record speeds. Neither the religion of the injured nor the helpers plays a role.

Global society

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It's early morning, Raphael Poch is having breakfast. His cell phone rings: Two people further someone has called the ambulance. Poch drops everything and lies, looks at the directions on his smartphone and starts the motorcycle. Less than three minutes after the emergency call, the volunteer paramedic is at the scene of the accident .

That happened to him this morning, says Poch, 38, hairless head, simple glasses. The press spokesman for United Hatzalah wears an orange kippa. He pulled a bright orange safety vest over his white shirt. The logo of United Hatzalah glares on it. The ambulance service provides free and quick emergency treatment for everyone in the country.

Fastest nationwide rescue service in the world

Volunteer paramedics arrive at the scene of an accident within three minutes on average - in the city, but also in rural areas. That makes United Hatzalah claims to be the fastest nationwide rescue service in the world.

Another peculiarity: Since 2016, the rescuers also offer a first aid at the accident site. United Hatzalah did research in Israel, according to Poch. Seventy percent of the Israeli population suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. "We suspect that the cause is the constant threat of conflict and terrorist attacks in our country," says the paramedic.

Hatzalah - what is that?

Hatzalah comes from Hebrew and means salvation . The first Hatzalah was founded in Williamsburg, New York, in the 1960s in a Jewish community . From there, the idea spread to many other countries with Jewish Orthodox populations. Today there are several independent Hatzalahs worldwide: in Switzerland, Australia and Mexico . However, these are often small and only known or in use within the Jewish community.

Poch speaks fast but calm. Again and again he is interrupted by his ringing cell phone and makes sure that somebody else can take over. Who receives which call coordinates the operations center in the center of Jerusalem.

Here, Muslims, Christians and Jews receive calls around the clock, about a thousand a day. The employees of the headquarters are paid for their work, but many also do a kind of community service there. The room is busy. Who does not care for an emergency call, takes care of the coordination of the 5000 volunteers, gives directions.

A large screen displays the time that employees currently average on average to answer a call. "It's just three seconds from the moment the caller pushes the green handset until we speak to him," says Poch. He massages an employee's shoulders, they joke, the mood is good. But as soon as the phone rings, the colleague is focused on it and Poch makes his way to his motorcycle.

Ambulance on the luggage rack

Just like in Germany, there are also "normal ambulances" in Israel with full-time paramedics. The calls in case of emergency always go at the same time at their control center and United Hatzalah. But hospital vehicles often take 10 to 20 minutes to arrive at the scene, says Poch.

The volunteers of United Hatzalah want to close the time gap between accident and arrival of the doctors. That's why they are on motorcycles, bicycles and small electric cars on the road - especially in the narrow and crowded streets of the old city of Jerusalem they make much faster progress.

Nevertheless, the helpers have it all - in a box on the back of his motorcycle Poch has the basic equipment, which also has an ambulance for first aid on board. However, everything is only available in a simple design, so the volunteers often have to go to the head office to refill.

photo gallery

5 pictures

Rescue service in Israel: In the headquarters of United Hatzalah

A common mission

In Israel, Jews, Christians and Muslims mostly live apart from each other - they attend different schools, different supermarkets. In the work of paramedics, however, religion, gender or age do not matter. "Everyone is a potential volunteer," says Poch. "The real question is who would like to be a volunteer."

Ayman Ibrahim has decided to do so and volunteers for United Hatzalah every free minute. The 29-year-old wears a red hoodie and a three-day beard, he speaks softly and listens attentively. The Palestinian lives just outside Abu-Gosh, next to an ultra-orthodox city. The communities meet there and help each other in emergency situations, he says. The collaboration with his Christian and Jewish colleagues at United Hatzalah describes the Muslim as a win-win situation.

His colleagues at United Hatzalah include lawyers, truck drivers, bakers, doctors and kindergarten teachers. "We even have members from the Israeli parliament," says Poch. "Our volunteer medics choose very different political parties, believe in different religions and come from very different countries or social classes."

But there are no conflicts: "The idea that unites us is to save lives together," says Poch.

"I'm on the way to save lives, I'll be right back"

Ayman Ibrahim has been volunteering since his father's heart attack. At that time, a Jewish paramedic had saved his Arab father's life. Today he travels as often as necessary to help his fellow citizens. "I save the lives of other people every day," says the 29-year-old. He believes, "It feels better than winning a million dollars in the lottery."

Like all other volunteers, Ibrahim had to go through a time-consuming education. After 200 hours of training, hundreds of assignments follow, to which the trainees drive with experienced paramedics. Every year, United Hatzalah trains around a thousand volunteers. Above all, they learn skills in the field of emergency medicine: they can quickly assess the situation at the accident site and initiate the first life-saving measures.

The paramedics have no hard shifts, but help whenever they can. "Everyone plans and organizes their own jobs," explains Poch. "Some are self-employed and can close their shop for a short time, for example, a volunteer with a sandwich shop hangs a sign on the door 'I'm on my way to save lives, I'll be right back.'"

On Sabbath, Christmas and Ramadan in action

Treatment by United Hatzalah is free. Poch points out that this is one of the organization's principles: "We save lives, whether people have money or not." The association is financed only by donations, it receives no state funding. Of course, that's not always easy, but there are currently enough people supporting United Hatzalah.

Since its founding 13 years ago, the fast paramedics have treated more than 3.5 million people. The volunteers are on duty 365 days a year - also on Sabbath, Christmas and Ramadan. "Saving lives is more important than all religious principles," says Poch. "On Sabbath, we Jews should not use electricity and start a car," says Poch. "When it comes to saving a life, I still do it all the same."

On religious holidays, however, the colleagues take each other into consideration. Paramedics of another religion then often take over the layers, describes the press secretary. So too Ayman, he likes to take over the services on Jewish holidays: "I never have a problem with it."

This article is part of the project Global Society, for which our reporters report from four continents. The project is long-term and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What is the project Global Society?

Under the title Global Society, reporters from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe will be reporting on injustices in a globalized world, socio-political challenges and sustainable development. The reportages, analyzes, photo galleries, videos and podcasts appear in the Politics Department of SPIEGEL. The project is long-term and will be supported over three years by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

Are the journalistic contents independent of the foundation?

Yes. The editorial content is created without the influence of the Gates Foundation.

Do other media have similar projects?

Yes. Major European media such as "The Guardian" and "El País" have created similar sections on their news pages with "Global Development" or "Planeta Futuro" with the support of the Gates Foundation.

Was there already similar projects at SPIEGEL ONLINE?

SPIEGEL ONLINE has already implemented two projects in recent years with the European Journalism Center (EJC) and the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: The "Expedition The Day After tomorrow" on Global Sustainability Goals and the journalistic refugee project "The New Arrivals" Several award-winning multimedia reports on the topics of migration and escape have emerged.

Where can I find all the publications on the Global Society?

The pieces can be found at SPIEGEL ONLINE on the topic page Global Society.

Source: spiegel

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