Magen David Adom UK’s Chief Executive, Daniel Burger, visited Israel over on Sunday 12 November. His primary objective was to film the stories of MDA medics who were on the frontline on 7th October together with award-winning broadcaster Robert Rinder. Here are his initial thoughts, from the plane, on what became an even more life-changing experience.
by Daniel Burger, CEO of MDA UK
I have just returned from 36 hours of filming with Rob Rinder in Israel….I’m struggling to find the right words and the four people we interviewed are simply remarkable people….here are my thoughts and ramblings…..
The past 36 hours have filled me with total mixed emotion and I remain stumped as to put into words quite how I feel.
On the one hand, it’s been a huge privilege to meet some of the most remarkable people and hear their lifesaving stories, yet on the other, I was worried….worried for my safety and worried for my family and how they were feeling. But what right did I have to feel this?
On 7th October, I learned of the horrific news of the atrocities being carried out by these merchants of death from 2000 miles away from the safety of my own home.
Fast forward to 12th November. At 5am walking through the airport, I got to realise what a war (with shelter signposting everywhere) and 240 hostages looks like as their photos lined the path from the arrivals gate to passport control – at that moment, I truly appreciated that this is a very different Israel from the one I’d last said goodbye to in the summer.
What I saw, as with all of us, shocked us to the core. These acts of depravity remain etched into my memory, and there they will remain for the rest of my life.
En route to the South to Sderot, we stopped at the point where we needed to put on our PPE as we were now in the area where there’s 15 seconds from alarm to impact. All I could think about was how people live under this very threat 24/7/365.
We first met with Ilan who showed us around the brand new armoured ambulance which comes at an enormous cost ($350,000) and had already been peppered with bullets including one in the passenger door. There is no doubt that should the paramedic sat there have been in a regular ambaulance, then they would have been killed. This vehicle literally allows us to put a value on the life of an MDA team member or patient. It occurred to me, as we were talking, that the MDA teams (of which 90% are voluntary) along with the Diasporsa societies exist not only to save the lives of the patients but now the crew too.
Ofir, the MDA volunteer and former paratrooper commander talked about his 7th October and the rampage of evil that waited for him as he was driving past a supermarket right next to the MDA station and how he was shot at multiple times. He miraculously survived the terrorists’ bullets, whilst he heard terrorists laughing at the decapitated and dismembered bodies scattered all around.
Standing in the car park of the station, Ofir tells us how over 40 bodies had filled the very space where we were standing – body bags everywhere.
We then drove to Kibbutz Magen to meet volunteer EMT Shunit. Shunit’s story of murder follows an horrific and depraved narrative which was becoming all too apparent. The Kibbutz is beautiful, tranquil with an eerie air of calm about it. Shunit tells me how her children and parents have been evacuated to Eilat and nobody is living in the Kibbutz. Walking past the swimming pool and down the path, I see spent bullet cartridges from the kibbutz army of 15 who successfully stopped the terrorists from Kibbutz Nir Oz advancing further – the alternate scenario doesn’t bear thinking about.
Everyone knows someone who has been killed on 7th October – Israel is a small country with a small population who are all “one family”. Rob asked Shunit to talk about someone who died and her reply was “who – there are so many.” Eventually Shunit talked about Yarin Peled who had been murdered whilst doing her job and saving lives in her kibbutz. She had a single final request which was to have as many MDA people as possible at her funeral wearing their unforms with the red Magen David on their backs. It is beshet that not only does Shunit appear in the photo on the invitation for our forthcoming dinner but that photo is taken from Yarin’s funeral.
We left the silence of the south for Tel Aviv where life was relatively normal and we went to dinner in a busy restaurant. Alcohol was needed to decompress and life carries on. I met Douglas Murray over dinner and as we were talking, the waitress brought him a cake from the staff which read “Thanks for standing with Israel – Am Israel Chai”. The outpouring of love is so amazing to see and really makes me appreciate the love of the people of Israel for those who stand with them, as they should at this time.
The next day saw us head to Ashdod to the regional dispatch centre to hear from shift managers Sharon & Adi. Both had remarkable and humbling stories to tell. Watching Sharon on camera telling Rob about the call she took on shift from Yotam, the young boy who saw his entire family murdered in front of him, hiding under his bed & whispering as the terrorists were still in the house. What can you say in that moment? As a parent, hearing this gut wrenching story choked me as I watched Sharon’s body language shift ever so slightly.
Adi talked me through the brilliance of MDA’s technology and how, as a truly national ems system, it saves lives efficiently and quickly. Overlayed with this tour of the tech was Adi’s story. She started by showing me phone footage of her screens of the morning of 7th October and how inbound calls could be counted in calls per second rather than per minute or even per hour.
In quick succession Adi took calls to dispatch ambulances to the police station which the terrorists had taken over and were holding people hostage. The first call was to evacuate a critically injured policeman, whilst the second was to evacuate the terrorist for treatment. This is the epitomy of MDA and the sanctity of saving lives. As hard as it was for Adi to dispatch that ambulance, she knew, at that moment, that the terrorist’s life could be saved (as indeed it was) and he would go on to be interrogated and stand trial for his heinous crimes.
Again, MDA is there to save lives and Hamas is there to destroy. Before meeting Douglas, I had re-watched his video on proportionality and speaking to Adi, all I could think about was that and how the giving (MDA) and taking (Hamas) is the diffence between life and death – good and pure evil.
As Adi’s story came to an end, I asked her how she is. She’s struggling – she lost a friend at the music festival and is struggling to process the past month which still seems to be a bit of a blur. MDA is on the scene to help with both in person and zoom psychological support and it’s clear from talking with her that there is a long way to go.
Yes, MDA needs to restock its vital medical supplies and buy new ambulances, but the reality is that the organisation will only be as good as its team and they need a huge amount of support.
I started this journey saying that I felt guilty for saying “I’m struggling” struggling with the atrocities of 7th October and struggling with the massively increased bandwidth the comms and fundraising has taken of my and my team’s time. Yet, truth be told, I feel far less guilty now hearing these remarkable stories, not knowing how to process it and dealing with the community’s outpouring of grief has taken its toll on me. So to say “I’m not ok” is ok – and I’m proud to say that I’m not ok because that means I have thrown myself into saving lives in the UK by raising funds for MDA, the organisation that is the shining light amongst the nation.
Am Israel Chai.