Life saved and life that will be saved: Trip to Israel

Kinue Tokudome

(A longer  Japanese version was published in the October 2016 issue of Ushio.)

The phrase that concludes Passover, “Next year in Jerusalem,” has been my wish since twenty years ago. At that time, I was interviewing people for my book on the Holocaust. I met people who devoted their lives to telling the history and lessons of the Holocaust, such as the legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Chicago Mercantile Exchange Chairman Leo Melamed who was saved by a visa issued by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, and Congressman Tom Lantos who was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress.


Mr. Simon Wiesenthal                        Congressman Tom Lantos

Some of them became my close friends. For them, Israel, especially Jerusalem, was a very special place. They used to ask me, “When are you going to Jerusalem?” And I would always answer, “Soon, I promise.” Then, I began working on the issues relating to American POWs of the Japanese during WWII and years just went by.

It was my meeting with Mayor Isamu Sato of Kurihara City, Miyagi prefecture, Japan that finally led to my visit to Israel. I came back to my hometown in the same prefecture two years ago and learned that Mayor Sato had helped the Israeli medical team that came to Minamisanriku, a town almost swept away by the tsunami in 2011, to assist victims. I decided to pay him a visit. Mayor Sato shared with me the fascinating stories of his having lived in a kibbutz in his early 20s and having promised that he would work to promote Japan-Israel friendship. Forty some years later, he would deliver on that promise.

Mayor Sato was told that the Israeli medical team would come as a self-contained unit so that the receiving community would not have to provide food or other necessities. Still, with the central government in disarray because of the dire situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was also hit by the tsumani, he knew it would be his responsibility, as the head of a nearby city, to prepare for the arrival of the medical team.

An emergency clinic with prefab buildings would be built in Minamisanriku which had lost most of its infrastructure. Electricity to run the emergency clinic needed to be generated and a supply of clean water needed to be secured. Rooms in a hotel in Kurihara City were set aside as a sleeping quarters for the medical team. Gasoline, the scarcest commodity at that time, had to be procured to run the bus carrying the team every day to the clinic.

On March 28, 2011, the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command and Medical Corps Aid delegation arrived in the area. The team comprised a group of nearly 50 members—doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and even interpreters who spoke Japanese. The following day, they opened an advanced medical clinic featuring pediatrics, surgical, maternity and gynecological, and otolaryngology wards, an optometry department, a laboratory, a pharmacy and an intensive care unit.

Mayor Sato’s previous worries that local people might feel uncomfortable being treated by foreign doctors vanished when he saw how smoothly the medical team was treating them. After treating more than 200 patients in two weeks, the IDF medical team finished their mission. During the farewell party, Mayor Sato sang the song he had remembered a long time ago in Israel, “Jerusalem of Gold,” which was soon joined by all the members of the team.

Israeli Ambassador to Japan Ruth Kahanoff and Mayor Sato

The article I wrote about Mayor Sato was published in Jerusalem Post last year, through a kind arrangement by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Later, I had the opportunity to learn about the background of Dr. Ofer Merin, who headed the Israeli medical team. The more I knew about him, the more I wanted to write an article on him. Dr. Merin is the Deputy Director General and Director of Trauma Services at the Shaare Zedek Hospital, as well as a Lt. Colonel in the IDF’s Reserve Forces.

IDF has an independent medical unit that can be dispatched at a moment’s notice to anywhere around the world hit by a major natural disaster. The team headed by Dr. Merin performed medical assistance work in disaster stricken countries like Haiti, the Philippines, and Nepal. At the Shaare Zedek Hospital, he often treats victims of terrorist attacks, even terrorists themselves.

Since last year, there has been a spate of attacks, especially with knives, by Palestinians around Jerusalem. The Israel media prominently reported Dr. Merin’s work as his team tried to treat the victims as they were rushed into the trauma unit.

Finally, Rabbi Cooper, who is a friend of Dr. Merin’s, arranged an interview with Dr. Merin for me last June. I was praying that there would be no major natural disaster around the world or terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. And I was finally able to meet Dr. Merin at the Shaare Zedek Hospital.

Here is my interview with Dr. Merin:

Can you tell us about your father?

My father was a kid in a Jewish village in Poland during WWII. One day, they were put into a train to Auschwitz. Not all Jewish people understood the meaning of it. But his mother understood. So as the train was about to leave she kicked my 8-year-old father and his 6-year-old sister off the train.

A Christian lady found them and decided to hide them in her house. It was a very courageous decision because if anyone found out that she was hiding Jews, she would be killed. She hid them for18 months and they survived the war.

A few years later my father and his sister came to Israel as orphans. Graduated high school and went to medical school. He made a very nice career as an ophthalmologist.

He spent a lot of his time working in the third world countries, helping people. He personally opened a few eye departments in hospitals in Africa when I was 4 or 5 years old. Looking back, it must be more than just he wanted to help people in Africa. People were killed in Europe because they were Jewish. I think his going to Africa and helping people there was his way of telling, “We are all human beings. We are all equal.”

He passed away three years ago. In his last years he had cancer in his blood and was treated in this hospital. He recovered but the cancer came back. One of the doctors told him that there was a research going on for new drug that might cure him. The treatment was available in two countries, Germany and the US.

He had gone to the US many times. So he could have easily chosen to go to the US to receive the treatment. But he said, “Let’s go to Germany.” I think that was a very powerful statement for him to make. The Germans killed his parents, yet he said, “I am able to trust you. You can treat me.” 

I heard that there were times that you treated terrorists.

I have to be very honest. This is one of the most difficult aspects of my work. It is very easy to stand up in a classroom and speak to medical students loudly of medical ethos that every patient is equal. That is easy. But when a terrorist who was shot and the victim he tried to kill are brought in to the trauma unit just a minute apart, you have to make a quick decision. Which one should we bring to the operating room first?  Now you are standing in a position to ask yourself, “Should part of my decision making take into account the issue that he is a terrorist?” No. We treat the patient whose medical need is more urgent.

But we must also be sensitive to feeling of the victims’ family. Imagine a mother who is rushing to the trauma unit where her daughter had been brought in after a terrorist attack. What would she feel when I explain to her that I am treating the person who tried to kill her daughter first. I don’t want to tell you how many times I was stopped in the corridor by family members telling me, “Dr. Merin, are you crazy treating the terrorist first?” It is not easy to explain to the family.

We physicians are not judges. I always tell my people we should be extremely cautious for what I call slippery slope. We all share our same thoughts for murderers or rapists. But that does not mean we should treat them in different ways. Once I start judging these people who I am treating, it will never end.

You grew up in a family with a father who valued life so much, yet you are now treating people who never value life at all, even their own. Isn’t it difficult? 

We don’t agree with a single percentage of whatever he is doing, but in that point of time, he is a human being. I am cautiously using this word, but I am proud that we are able to treat every patient equally.

Do you think your work, as you explained to me, personifies some aspect of your country?

When there is a disaster around the world, I receive hundreds of phone calls from those who want to volunteer. I have to tell them, “Sorry, we are all booked up.” Yes, I think it is due to the value of this country that was born because people told them, “We should exterminate you because you are Jew. We are doing the opposite. We are treating every one as equal. If you ask me if there is a connection between the reasons this state was born and what we are doing, my personal thought is, yes there is.

Rabbi Cooper asked Dr. Merin to share with us one incident in Japan that stayed with him.

For me, one of the powerful moments in Japan was the minute that you understand that you gained the trust of the people. Unlike some other countries we went to help, Japan is one of the biggest countries in the world with an extremely good medical system. So gaining their trust was not so obvious at all. The powerful moment came when people started to speak with us. Not only on their medical issues, but about their feeling and emotion. In this village we were deployed, we knew almost every person we were treating had someone very close to them die, who could be their spouse or kid or a very good neighbor. And after a few days, they started to speak with us about their emotion or about what they were afraid of. That was an important moment for me because that was when I knew we were doing the right job.


After the interview, Dr. Merin brought us to the trauma unit. It was not a large room. Imagining the scene where both a terrorist and a victim are brought in there at the same time, I thought about the difficulty of Dr. Merin’s work. He was true to his belief that every life is precious. I was filled with joy of being able to meet him in person.

The Talmud, teaching of the Judaism, says, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” I realized that this saying was not just an old teaching in the Talmud, but something that had been lived by people like Dr. Merin’s father and Dr. Merin himself.

Each one of us should remember those who displayed courage to save lives and learn from those who honor their legacy by their own deeds.


以下は、2018年11月21日にウィーンで開催された国際会議「Europe beyond anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism – securing Jewish life in Europe」における、AJC (米国ユダヤ人協会) CEO デヴィッド・ハリス氏の発言です。



一つは個人的なことですが、私たちに何がしかの希望を与えてくれると思いますので、ご紹介します。私がここにニューヨークから持参したのは、父の名誉博士号証書で、10代の彼が1936年から1938年にかけて「重水素原子の合成」に関するリサーチを行ってから、実に40年後にこのウィーンで授与されたものです。父は、ナチスによるオーストリア併合と水晶の夜の後(ウィーンの)化学研究所から追放され、その後恐怖の7年間を過ごしましたが、それを説明する時間は今日はありません。40年前の1978年、私は迷いながらもこのウィーンにやってきました。父は警告したのですが、私は、“Let my people go”の 呼びかけに応え、ユダヤ人のソ連出国を支援する運動に参加したのです。私はそこで、自らの過去と未だに向き合えていないオーストリアを発見しました。そして2018年の今日、私たちは、(クルツ)首相がヨーロッパ初の反ユダヤ主義・反シオニズムに関する会議と呼んだこの会に集まりました。私たちがインスピレーションと希望の拠り所を探すとき、父のこの証書はそんなインスピレーションと希望を与えるのではないかと思います。






先ず述べておきたいことは、私はヨーロッパ崇拝者だということです。第二次大戦の後、Robert Schumanや Jean Monnet などの人々は、新ヨーロッパの建設という近代の歴史で最も野心的な平和プロジェクトを生み出し成功させた、稀有な先見者でした。


私が中心的問題だと思っていることについて詳しく話させてください。数年前、私は Mauthausen (オーストリアにあるナチス収容所跡地)でスピーチをする光栄に浴しました。私の前に、オーストリアの当時の大統領、ポーランド大統領、ハンガリー大統領、そしてロシア下院議長が挨拶しました。4人全員が、過去と被害者について雄弁に感動的に語りました。でも4人のうち誰ひとり、現代について語らなかったのです。たった一人も、死んだユダヤ人が面した脅威でなく、現代のユダヤ人が面している脅威について、語ることはありませんでした。誰ひとり、ユダヤ人にとってイスラエルがいかに大切であるかを理解していないか、していても語らなかったのです。



例えばフランスの学校でホロコーストについて教えると何が起こるか、 The Lost Territories of the Republic を読んでみて下さい。何人の移民の子供たちが教師に挑戦し、ホロコーストは無かったと言うか。そしてホロコースは、違法に建国されたイスラエルを正当化するためのシオニストによる作り話だ。本当のホロコーストを知りたかったら、パレスチナのナクバを見たらいい、と言い返すか。そして多くの教師はこのような状況にどう対処してよいのか、見当さえつかないのです。




最後に、これは私が欧州委員会に提出したのですが、この分野におけるVera Jourova 氏(EU Commissioner for Justice and Consumers and Gender Equality)の過去4年半の素晴らしい仕事ぶりを特に称えたいと思います。先ほどKatharina von Schnurbein 氏(Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism of the European Commission)も皆さんに説明なさいましたが、私たちは、移民と交わす〝Values Contract” について語り合いました。



国連加盟国 193か国中、なぜ一国だけが常にその正当性を問われるのですか。国連加盟国 193か国中、なぜ一国だけがその自衛権に対しMathias DÖPFNER 氏(President of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers )が明確に宣言したように “イスラエルは他の全ての国と同様自らを守る絶対の権利がある”ではなく、“暴力のサイクル”だとか“お互いの抑制”などという言葉を返されるのですか。国連事務局にはなぜ、パレスチナをイスラエルから守る3つの常設委員会があるのですか。国連人権理事会にはなぜ、イスラエルのみを扱う特別議題項目があるのですか。イスラエルは国連においてなぜ、北朝鮮・シリア・イラン・ベネズエラなどを糾弾する全ての国連決議の合計よりさらに多い糾弾決議を受けてきたのですか。




UNRWA の改革を訴えて31年:デヴィッド・べディーン氏の闘い




1970年に20歳でアメリカからイスラエルに移住してきた彼は、ソーシャルワークの修士号を持ち、オバマ大統領がその呼び名に市民権を与える前から、コミュニティ・オーガナイザーとして活動してきました。1987年、外国人特派員にイスラエルに関する正確な情報を提供するプレスセンターを開設し、同時に Center for Near East Policy Research を設立しました。その目的は、政策決定者やジャーナリストそして一般市民に、複雑なイスラエル・アラブ関係への洞察を提供することで、調査結果報告ビデオを数多く発表してきました。CNNやアメリカの新聞の特派員を務めた時代もあり、国連や欧米の議会でも証言してきました。









4.1948年の戦争から数えて4世代目5世代目になる難民の定住を促進するため、国連難民高等弁務官事務所(UNHCR) の基準をUNRWA に適用すること。これらの人々は70年もの間、難民として留め置かれてきた。現在のUNRWA政策は、いかなる定住も1948年以前のアラブ地域に“帰還する権利”を妨げる、というものだ。UNRWA はパレスチナ過激主義の政治スタンスを取ることで、パレスチナ難民の福祉と未来への取り組みを自ら放棄している。



クーパー師、パレスチナの人権活動家 Bassem Eid 氏、べディーン 氏




べディーン氏が代表を務めるCenter for Near East Policy Research が制作した、UNRWAのキャンプで暮らす子供達のビデオ。彼らの言葉が悲しいですが、その責任は、間接的にはUNRWAの問題を無視してきた寄付国にもあると言えます。

Lone Soldier CenterにてJoshua Flasterさんとのインタビューの感想




海外からイスラエルへ移住し、イスラエルのために軍に入隊したLone Soldierに直接会って話を聞く機会を頂いたのは、今年9月の下旬でした。24歳の僕と同世代の若者たちが、どうして母国を離れ、Lone Soldierとしてイスラエルに行こうとするのか、ぜひ話を聞きたいと思い、ジョージアからイスラエルへ飛ぶことを決めました。

ユダヤ教の新年を大統領夫人と参謀総長夫人と祝うlone soldiers
By Tomer Reichman (תומר רייכמן) / GPO Israel, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Lone Soldier Centerはエルサレム市内の細い路地の間にあり、見つけるのに少し苦労しました。外の階段から二階に上がったところにLone Soldier Centerがありました。インターフォンを鳴らし出迎えてくれたのが、その日インタビューに応じていただいたJoshua Flasterさんでした。彼自身も、アメリカからイスラエルに来たLone Soldierの1人です。暖かい笑顔でセンター内を案内してくれました。大きな部屋に、食器が積み重なるキッチン、洗濯機など大家族が住んでいるような雰囲気がセンターにはありました。

ソファに座り、Joshuaさんはセンターの歴史や、どうして自分がイスラエルに来ることを決めたのか、Lone Soldierとしてどのような道を歩んできたかを話してくれました。

Joshuaさんがイスラエルに来て、Lone Soldierとしてイスラエルのために生きることを決めたのは、ちょうど僕の年齢の頃だそうです。アメリカで大学を卒業し、そのままなら不自由ない生活が送れたであろう道から、イスラエルのために何かするために移住する道を選びました。入隊して訓練に励む一方で、ヘブライ語習得やイスラエルの文化に慣れるということは、簡単なことではないと僕は感じましたし、Joshuaさん自身、大きな挑戦だったと言いました。しかし、自分の決断を後悔したことは一度もなかったと語ってくれました。


話を聞いている最中に、センターに他のLone Soldierの若者も入ってきました。「みんな、Lone Soldierとして、故郷を離れ、イスラエルに来たんだ」と教えてくれるJoshuaさんの言葉を聞きながら見てみると、それこそ、僕と同じ、または、それより年下の人たちもいました。彼たち・彼女たちも、Joshuaさんと同じく、深く考え抜いた末に、イスラエルに来る決心をしたのかと思いました。一見すると、僕と同じ年頃ですが、それぞれの胸には、後悔することなく自分が決めた道を歩もうとする強い意志を感じました。兵士として生きることは怖くないのか、そう考えている時にJoshuaさんがこう言ってくれました。



JoshuaさんもLone Soldierとして、誇りを持っていることもインタビューで感じました。インタビュー中、国境沿いでの銃の使用など、争いのことに関してかなりデリケートな内容の質問もしました。もしかしたら、僕の質問が彼の気持ちを害するのではないかと思っていました。でも、Joshuaさんは、「私は、正直な質問に、正直に答えることができて良かった。本当に話を聞いてくれて嬉しかったよ」と後日メールで伝えてくれました。

僕には、イスラエルにも中東の他の国にも友達がいます。イスラエルはどうするべきか、中東の他の国々はどうするべきか、何が正しいか、何が間違いなのかを問うのではなく、まず友達が住んでいるそれぞれの国のことを、メディアや本だけでなく、自分で見て、聞いて、感じることの大切さを感じました。そして、Lone Soldier の存在を知ることができたのも、自分が何ができるかは分からないが、とりあえず自分で知ろうとする姿勢があったからこそだと思います。いつか、僕も、友達のために何かできることが来る日を信じ、今後も、自分で知ろうとする姿勢を忘れずにいこうと思います。

Israeli Hospital Treated Enemy Patients

Kinue Tokudome*

(A slightly shorter version of this article  in Japanese was published by WebRonza)

Ziv Medical Center

Sefed is a city in Northern Israel with a population of 35,000, having close borders with Lebanon to the North and Syria to the East. Its history goes back all the way to the Biblical times. Crusaders built a massive fortress in the Middle Ages, and during the 16th Century it became a center of Kabbalah, the mystical school of thought of Judaism. Since the 1920s, Jewish residents and Arab residents were in constant clashes, and in the fierce battle in the War of Independence in 1948, Jews took control over the city. Young Mahmoud Abbas fled with his family from Safed to Syria at that time. Despite many wars that have been fought upon it, this beautiful city overlooking the Sea of Galilee in the South has been a popular place for many artists.

Ziv Medical Center located in Safed treated almost 1,500 wounded or sick Syrians in the past five and a half years. They came to the Israeli border with the desperate hope of getting medical treatment that was no longer available in their civil war-torn country. It became known as Israeli Defense Forces’ “Operation Good Neighbor.” With Syria’s Assad regime regaining its control over the border area, the operation ended this summer.

Ziv Medical Center in Safed overlooking the Sea of Galilee in the South
(photo: from the website of Ziv Medical Center)

Recently, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Mrs. Cooper, and I had the opportunity to visit this hospital and listen to the two doctors who explained to us what took place.

Meeting with us were the Director of Ziv, Dr. Salman Zarka, and the Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Dr. Eric Shinwell. Dr. Zarka grew up in a Druze family not far from Sefed and served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for 25 years. Until assuming the position of Ziv’s Director four years ago, Colonel Zarka was the head of the Medical Corps of the Northern Command of IDF. Dr. Shinwell received his medical education at Queen’s College in England.

Author, Dr. Salman Zarka, Dr. Eric Shinwell and Rabbi Abraham Cooper

“Israeli Hospital Treated Enemy Patients”の続きを読む