It’s no secret that Israel isn’t an Olympics power: It came away from the London Games without a single medal, and since its inception, it has won only one gold and seven medals overall (making it one of very few countries with more Nobel Prizes than Olympics medals). What is less well known is that Israel does much better in the Paralympics, which begin today: There, it has won more than 300 medals overall, 113 of them gold.
First and foremost, of course, that’s a testament to Israel’s cutting-edge medical care, developed in response to the grim necessity of having to treat far too many victims of war and terror. But it’s also a testament to Israel’s priorities: Whereas athletes competing in the regular Olympics often struggle financially, since state funding for most forms of sport is minimal, Paralympics athletes benefit from a network of state-supported rehabilitation centers where sports is part of the program for those who want it. It’s not that Israel wouldn’t love having more Olympics medals; the country went wild when Gal Fridman won his gold in 2004. It’s just that caring for its wounded veterans and victims of terror takes precedence–as it should.
Nor is it Israelis alone who benefit from the country’s medical expertise. Israel has a variety of programs that offer medical help to people worldwide–not only its well-known emergency medical missions to disaster areas, but also ongoing programs like Save a Child’s Heart, which provides heart surgery to children from throughout the developing world year-round, as well as training for medical personnel from these countries. Israeli cardiologists donate their time for this purpose, and an Israeli hospital donates the space; fundraising covers other expenses, like plane tickets for patients from Africa.
For the knee-jerk anti-Israel types, of course, Israel can do no right. Regrettably, that even includes some of the people Israel helps: When Haaretz tried to interview Palestinian doctors who had been trained by Save a Child’s Heart earlier this month, for instance, every one of them refused to talk, fearing the wrath of enforcers of the Palestinian Authority’s anti-normalization campaign.
But anyone who takes the trouble to look knows the truth. As one Palestinian from Gaza whose daughter was treated by SACH told Haaretz:
“At the checkpoint I met many people from Gaza who come to Israel for medical treatment, here and at other hospitals. I am not the only one who came here. It is obvious that people come to Israel for medical treatment, regardless of the political conflict.”
And that’s a badge of honor shinier than any Olympic gold medal.