50 Feet from Syria


As I continue my work on the targeting of hospitals and ambulances, doctors and nurses, and on the precarious provision of medical care in Syria, I’ve been watching Skye Fitzgerald‘s remarkable documentary 50 Feet from Syria, which is now available on iTunes and (in some places) on Netflix:

With a suitcase full of donated stainless-steel bone implants, Syrian-American surgeon Hisham Bismar arrives at a Turkish hospital on the Syrian border, ready for anything. What he finds is horror, chaos, and an ocean of refugees in need of medical care: colleagues who perform operations without anesthesia, stories of Syrian government snipers targeting pregnant women and children, and images of 55 gallon barrels filled with shrapnel and TNT deliberately dropped on civilians.

With dull drill bits and ill-fitting bone and joint implants Bismar repairs the bodies of the wounded fortunate enough to find their way to the hospital – both civilians and fighters. Amongst this remarkable work, remarkable people abound: “M”, a ‘Turkish Schindler’ selflessly crossing the border each day to retrieve the wounded and ferry them to the care of surgeons, and “AM” a hero among his peers for his willingness to live for years in Syrian field hospitals repeatedly bombed by the Assad regime.

50 Feet From Syria is a portrait of a quiet and determined man, performing intricate acts of medical necessity undeterred by the chaos and complexity of war around him. The film serves as a snapshot in time for the current plight of Syrian refugees. It also indelibly communicates the human cost of one of the most brutal, dehumanizing conflicts in modern history that continues to destroy and displace millions of lives.

It’s a stark reminder of the circumstances in which, once you turn from killing to caring, 5,000 feet isn’t the best….

Someone who has demonstrated the variability of distance in these situations is the remarkable British surgeon David Nott, who has both worked in field hospitals inside Syria and also advised colleagues in Aleppo and elsewhere from London by Skype and whatsapp (the most intimate of remote medicines):

You can read much more on his work – and on the medical underground in Syria more generally – in Ben Taub‘s compelling account of ‘The shadow doctors’ at the New Yorker here.

I’ve drawn on these and many other accounts for my ‘Surgical strikes and modern war’: much more to come very soon.