Five paramedics who were among the only women that served in Gaza for long periods of time, shared their stories of pain and pride.
The women, whose stories originally appeared on Ynet, talked about their experiences. While the women in regular service are already back to normal operational activities, the sights and memories of combat are still with them.
The women – Tal Shahar, Yonat Daskal, Noam Dan, Tamar Bar-Ilan, and Chen Amusi – each have their own combat stories, the memories of which will never leave them, just as the memories of the many wounded whom they cared for will never leave them.
But more than anything, the female paramedics said that they think about those whom they could not save. The soldiers who didn’t survive.
“On Sunday I was at the Kotel with my battalion and we said a prayer of thanks,” said Dan, who served in the hard hit Golani Brigade. “In Gaza there were so many moments of death that I had to thank God that I’m alive. Only then did I realize how frightening it had been there.”
When Amusi finished her lifesaving duties, and crossed back into Israel, her boyfriendof four years had a surprise waiting: an engagement ring, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Sunday.
Amusi, a medic with the 401 Armored Division, said her Golani Brigade boyfriend’s offer, made on bended knee, no less, “was very exciting, but less frightening than being in Gaza!”
Amusi told channel 2 that; “The first few days in Gaza I was kind of in shock, what with all of the explosions, smoke, tunnels and bombings. It took a while, but I became adjusted to the explosions; what was ours and which were theirs, and what to be afraid of.”
Amusi saw her fare share of miracles while serving in Gaza. “We were in a house and I was running an IV for a dehydrated soldier, and suddenly, there was a massive explosion,” she recalled. “We ran outside and saw that the vehicle’s (which she was traveling in) ‘Windbreaker’ anti-rocket system had detonated the projectile before it hit the vehicle – our fears turned into relief.”
Amusi also told reporters of some of the more humanitarian work she was involved in in Gaza. At one point she was in a house and a Palestinian family including children were also taking shelter there. The children, she said, “cried nonstop.”
“I was sitting there blowing up balloons from the latex gloves, until they calmed down. We later ceased-fire and they left,” she said. “In the end, I cannot remain indifferent. It bothers you, these kids, and I had to make them happy.”
Amusi is set to finish her extended service of over three years whereas most women who serve in the IDF only serve two years. Her service, which included a pre-military paramedics course, was extended due to her inclusion in a combat unit.
The wedding is scheduled to take place in November.
Staff Sergeant Yonat Daskal lay on the sand of Gaza and looked skyward. The 10 wounded soldiers who she had treated over the last few hours had all finally been evacuated to different hospitals within Israel.
This was certainly a different sand then the kind she was planning to be lying on at the time, having returned from a vacation abroad midway through her trip in order to come and fight in Gaza.
“I looked up at the stars and tried to understand what had happened to me,” she said. “I told myself that today is Friday and I should have been with my family for Kiddush, or even in Mexico, but instead I’m in Gaza, in the reserves, and maybe that’s what was supposed to happen. Maybe I needed to be there to give my abilities to the wounded guys from my battalion, 18-year-old soldiers who shouldn’t be in my care. What have they had time to do in their life?”
“After hearing from friends and colleagues that something was happening I called the brigade’s medical officer and heard from him that they were starting to draft reservists,” she explained.
“My trip was supposed to last for another month and I wasn’t sure what to do. Once I understood from my friends that this was going to be serious, I said to myself that throughout my regular service I was trained in preparation for the real thing and there was no way that I would be abroad when it happened,” said Daskal.
“I changed the date of my return flight and came back to Israel.”
Daskal landed at Ben Gurion International Airport one day after the IDF’s ground forces had entered Gaza, and the day after that she had already joined Nahal troops in the south.
“I was placed with a team of combat troops. We went in by foot and I marched with them carrying all of my medical equipment on me including a helmet, a ceramic vest, and my rifle. The march wasn’t easy. There were moments when I found myself desperately gasping for breath.”
She continued, “We went from house to house with all my equipment on my back and I didn’t let myself rest. I bit my lips and kept going. In some humorous moments the guys laughed at me and said that it was like I was walking from hostel to hostel in South America. I was in Gaza for a-week-and-a-half straight and then another 24 hours in and out, all without telephones or any contact with the world. Only on Fridays I thought about home. The rest of the time I was only focused on the work.”
Daskal had plenty of work to keep her busy. “On one of the nights we heard startling booms. They said on the radio that three anti-tank missiles had been fired at our forces and that there was a soldier who’d been seriously wounded. After a few seconds they said that he was dead.”
“Then came the news all in a row: There’s another wounded, and another. There were eventually eight wounded and then a terrible silence emanated from the radio followed by a scream, ‘I need a paramedic’. I understood that I was just meters from the wounded soldiers.”
“There was a medic with me who didn’t quite understand what was happening to him because the wounded were his friends who went out to fight and he was in shock. I grabbed him and told him that I understand that they were his friends and that because this was a multiple wounded incident, we may not be able to treat everyone, but together we’d try to do as much as possible. I heard him saying to himself, ‘as much as possible, as much as possible,’ and somehow he came out of shock.”
“In the meantime the soldiers put the wounded on stretchers, ran with them several meters and brought them to us, to a place that was between two buildings while bullets flew over us. I found myself with my ceramic vest and medical equipment, running to one wounded soldier, leaning over him, checking, treating him, and then moving on to the next.”
“The first wounded soldier who came to me was screaming from pain. One of his hands was almost completely detached and he was screaming ‘my hand is gone’. I asked for his name to check that he was conscious and I said to him, ‘My name is Yonat and I promise that everything will be ok.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I know that it will be ok and we’ll win in the end.’ At that moment I just wanted to embrace him.”
“I placed a tourniquet on him, and then a second wounded soldier arrived with shrapnel in his chest, followed by a third who suffered a serious injury in his leg, and then a fourth came with shrapnel in his eye. I saw the tears falling down his cheeks and knew that he was in great pain, but he refused to let me treat him. ‘Take care of my soldiers first, you can take care of me later,’ he said. I remember that I was very moved from what he said and thought that he was very noble.”
“Since we had many wounded, there weren’t enough soldiers there to evacuate all of them, and those who weren’t hurt ran to the house where the wounded were lying, loaded a stretcher and brought the wounded to us for treatment, and that’s how they ran, back and forth.”
“During those moments I understood that I was on my own and I put everyone around me to work, no matter their medical training. There was great pressure.”
“At one moment when I said, ‘Damn, I’m alone. I need a paramedic, a doctor and a vehicle,’ all of a sudden the Assistant Battalion Commander miraculously arrived and said, ‘There are two vehicles here with a doctor and a paramedic who will help you.’ At that moment I felt like God was with me in Gaza,” Daskal said. “In total, I treated ten wounded soldiers that night.”
Sgt. Tamar Bar-Ilan, a 21-year-old from Haifa, usually wears her parents’ wedding rings. “A thought crossed my mind that if a tank catches fire because of the shells and I’ll get burned, they wouldn’t be able to remove the rings because of the edema and the blisters. I’m a hypochondriac paramedic,” she joked in explaining why she switched them to be part of a necklace she wore instead of on her hands.
Bar-Ilan, an armored corps paramedic, was with soldiers in her battalion inside a tank for 12 days. “I was the only women among the men, but it didn’t bother me. We’ve been serving together for two years and know each other well. As a paramedic, I’m used to be being the female minority, but this time it was different. I’d never been in a tank that had anti-tank missiles fired at it and in enemy territory.”
“At first I didn’t leave the tank for five consecutive days. My greatest fear was that something would happen to the battalion’s soldiers and that I would have to take care of them. The thought of not being able to save a soldier that I knew drove me crazy. When it got really hard, I reminded myself that I had to be strong for them.
“On my last night in Gaza, we heard a gunshot and someone shouted on the radio ‘paramedic’. We quickly entered the tank, drove for several seconds and saw a wounded soldier on a stretcher. He was hit by sniper fire and both his legs were wounded. I quickly placed tourniquets on him, dressed his wounds, gave him painkillers and within minutes he was evacuated to the hospital in a helicopter. I handled things very professionally, but I can’t get him out of my head.”
Staff Sgt. Noam Dan is 22-years-old and from Dimona. During the operation, she entered Gaza with soldiers in the Armored Corps, with whom she serves.
“On the fifth day of the ground operation, they said on the radio that someone was wounded by sniper fire. We drove towards him with the tank, and saw a wounded soldier whose face was grey, lying on the stretcher. The doctor who treated him said that the sniper hit him in the area of his heart and that he had lost his pulse.
“I checked his pulse and felt nothing. I told myself that he has got to be ok and that I’ll be visiting him in the hospital soon, and started giving him a cardiac massage.”
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The tank was driving on and I was massaging his heart. I remember saying that no matter what, I won’t stop until I get a sign of life from him.”
“At a certain point I realized that our CPR efforts weren’t working, and yet I still couldn’t stop. I asked the tank driver to go as fast as he can. I just wanted to reach the evacuation zone near the fence with Israel. When we arrived, the doctor pronounced his death.”
“That’s when I broke down. I told myself that this man deserves to be cried over. He endangered his life for me, for us. I laid down next to him and cried.
“Now, when I talk about him, I can see his grey face in front of me, feel the cold from his body and remember that he was strong, and had the body of a fighter. He was a beautiful man.”
Staff Sgt. Tal Shahar, a 22-year-old from Tel Adashim, serves in the undercover operations unit of the Israeli Border Police. During Operation Protective Edge, she was ordered to join Maglan, an Israeli Special Forces unit, and entered the Gaza Strip with that unit’s soldiers.
Unlike other soldiers, she refused to write a farewell letter beforehand, “so that it wouldn’t be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I hung a photograph of my boyfriend next to my dog tag and felt that it gave me strength.”
“I weigh 50 kg. The ceramic vest I was wearing and the equipment I was carrying weighed 40 kg together, and I didn’t ask for any help. It’s my job to carry it and there’s no reason that I should receive special treatment.
“During one of our missions, we heard a large explosion and calls for a paramedic. Within three minutes, I arrived with another paramedic to a hospital building that had been booby-trapped. There was a soldier wounded who was in serious condition, whose hand was partially amputated and he had sustained wounds in both of his legs, on top of which he was entirely covered in soot.
“He told us that he can’t feel his legs and I promised him that they would be fine. There were many others on scene who were likewise suffering from blast injuries and some of whom were bleeding heavily. Without giving a second thought to my own safety, I did what I had to do – CPR, stabilization and evacuation to a relatively sheltered area.
“When I left Gaza I saw a Facebook post saying ‘Israelis, wake up, look at what’s happening in Gaza.’ I was so angry that I couldn’t help myself from responding. I wrote that I had been inside a hospital in Gaza that was booby-trapped by Hamas terrorists, and that they had dug terror tunnels underneath. I also wrote that I had taken care of our wounded soldiers.
“The hardest moment was when I left Gaza and saw the pictures of those who were killed, one of them a 20-year-old that I had fought to save. I thought to myself, what exactly was he doing there? He like I was doing his part so that all of Israel would be able to live in peace.
Stories of heroism are not unique to these five women. There are many more stories of bravery that occurred in Gaza over the course of Operation Protective Edge. These women represent the bravery, daring, compassion and professionalism that makes the IDF the army that it is. The most humanitarian and effective army on the planet.