What I Learned as a Captured Israeli Soldier

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The six of us were taken to the border in the Golan Heights. We stayed on the Syrian side, standing with the families of the Syrian prisoners. That was quite something — we knew they hated us. We waited several hours, since processing each prisoner took a long time. As one of us was released, 55 Syrians came across the border.

When I got back to Israel I received nothing. The state of Israel is very bad that way. I got no medical treatment, no psychological help. I was no longer obliged to serve in the army — normally you do 20 years in the reserves. But the only privilege I got from my experiences was that I didn't have to serve in the reserve. I could no longer work in the secret service since my identity was known. I would have been killed if I had been caught again.

Instead I volunteered my services. I thought that if I had survived my capture, I could survive anything. My experience in Syria made me a tougher man. I became a doctor in the Israeli army, and am now chief commander of the medical forces. I go to catastrophes around the world. I helped after the Kenya bombings in 1998, the earthquakes in Turkey and Greece in 1999 and I spent three months in Mombasa. I wouldn't serve if it weren't in the search and rescue. We don't carry guns.

In 2001, I received the medal of honor in Israel for 20 years of volunteer service. I am now 45. For many years, I kept in touch with one of my two fellow captives. But had no contact with the other one. Two or three years ago, I visited him in the desert where he lives. He criticized me for speaking out about my experiences in Syria. My perspective is that people need the support. They know that there's more than misery. A capture doesn't mean the end of life.

For example, in 2000, Hizballah captured three soldiers. For two to three years, we didn't know if they were alive or dead. I contacted the soldiers' families to comfort them and be an example that a person could survive that situation. What we didn't know was that those soldiers had already been killed.

The Israeli army is based on two laws: a wounded soldier would never be left behind and neither would a captured soldier. It's a part of how the army has been able to defend itself against millions of Arabs. It's not political; it's a special spirit. We know we won't be left wounded or captured. The issue that these captured soldiers were just an excuse for Israel to start this war — maybe it's true. But almost every big war was started with an excuse.

I knew I was going to be part of a prisoner exchange as long as the Syrians would allow it to happen. The Syrian prisoners were men like me with families and mothers. They weren't terrorists or murderers. Today there is a difference, but I would still exchange terrorists to get our soldiers back. It's a very expensive price, but it should be paid. We've never had success by using force. We've always had negotiations.

Today I am a cardiac surgeon, training in Canada for one more year. I like Canada but I have given my blood — literally — for Israel, and I will go back there if I'm needed.

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