In 1986, Colombian Multinational Force Observer (MFO) Alexander Ocampo was serving as a security watch in the Sinai desert with colleagues from 11 other neutral countries when we was critically injured and paralyzed from the waist down.
Nursed back to health at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv by Liana Gold, a Jewish ER trauma nurse, also originally from Colombia, Ocampo’s life was saved by Israeli doctors.
Back in Israel for the first time since his injury, he and Gold were reunited and toured the country together, visiting traditional Christian and Jewish tourist sites, as well as the hospital that rehabilitated him. Together, they visited the Knesset for a joint Jewish-Christian Bible study, where Ocampo received a standing ovation in appreciation of his service and sacrifice to Israel. The Bible study was co-sponsored by the Knesset Caucus for the Encouragement of Bible Study, the Schindler Society and Israel365’s Yeshiva for the Nations.
Gold, who now lives in Herzliya, was born in Colombia and made aliyah from the United States in 1983. She started working as a nurse practitioner in 1986 and that year, she told Breaking Israel News, “On one of my shifts, the military police let us know that there was a jeep crash in the Sinai, resulting in a severely injured soldier from the MFO.”
Because he was a Spanish speaker, Gold said, they sent her – the only Colombian nurse in the country at the time – to help him.
“He had such severe injuries, his lungs were punctured and full of blood. The trauma team put tubes in his lungs to oxygenate him, because in another five minutes he would have suffocated. We saved his life in the helicopter and again in the trauma room, where we found he had other wounds as well, including a spinal cord injury and ruptured diaphragm,” Gold explained.
It took several surgical teams, a several-week long ICU visit, and a near-cardiac arrest before he moved to the rehabilitation center at Sheba Hospital, where he stayed for six months. Throughout his period of hospitalization , Gold was Ocampo’s point person, as she was around the same age, shared a common mother tongue, and lived on the hospital compounds.
“I adopted him like a brother,” Gold said, often advocating for Ocampo, who she learned joined the Colombian army for four years as a combat fighter against guerilla drug traffickers in the jungles of Colombia and was sent on the MFO mission to the Sinai as reward for his excellence.
This is not Gold and Ocampo’s first reunion since their meeting in Israel. On a trip back to her place of birth, Gold visited Ocampo in Colombia a few years after he had returned home.
The conditions in Colombia for people with disabilities shocked Gold. “He was living on the sixth floor in a building without an elevator, and had to be carried by multiple friends down the building every time he wanted to get out of the apartment,” she said. “He got disability assistance from the Colombian military, but it’s a small amount and he comes from a poor family, so I sent him money when I could.”
“In Colombia, disabled people were looked upon like their life was useless,” she lamented. “He was living in poverty and anger, knowing the difference between how Colombia and Israel treats their disabled people.”
In rehab in Israel, “we empowered him to be independent, but Colombian doctors wanted him to be more submissive,” Gold explained.
Eventually, Ocampo finished law school with a disability at 45 years old, got married, and started saving to come back to Israel to show his wife the place that saved his life and his soul.
“He speaks of Israel saving his life but also saving his dignity, sending him back feeling like a complete human being despite being in a wheelchair,” said Gold. “He loves Israel because we fought for him. He says that we are rough and tough on the outside, but we do the right thing and we are real. He sees that we have values.”
Ocampo’s wife, who is a devout Christian, brought him closer to Christianity and was also looking forward to visiting Israel’s holy sites.
All that time, Gold said, “we became really good friends.” Staying at Gold’s house for the week, Ocampo and his wife visited the Dead Sea and Western Wall – which Gold said was especially emotional- as well as Christian sites such as the Church of the Beatitudes in the Galilee, the Yardenit Baptismal Site, the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and where Catholics believe he was buried and resurrected (although Gold noted that Ocampo did not enter, as it was not easily accessible enough for his wheelchair).
Ocampo rented a wheelchair and bath chair from Yad Sarah, Israel’s largest national volunteer organization, which offers medical equipment to the sick, disabled, and elderly. “They were amazed at how many volunteers there were and that everything was for rent or at a discount,” said Gold.
Ocampo met with an Ambassador of the MFO, showing him what the Colombian troops are doing now. “They brought him a medal and that was very emotional,” said Gold, who viewed this moment as a miracle and a tikkun (correction) for the suffering Ocampo endured after his injury.
“It took 31 years for a sense of justice to be fulfilled,” said Gold. “The strength I identify in Alex is a will of love. He has got tremendous capacity to love, which helped him survive five surgeries in Israel and another five in Colombia. If you believe long enough, you can see justice being done. It’s a dream come true to host him in Israel.”`