“I Saved Sinwar’s Life-then he killed my nephew” // A conversation with Dr. Yuval Bitton

Dr. Yuval Bitton worked for years as a dentist in Israel’s Nafcha Prison, where he met Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas arch-terrorist who was convicted of murder and would go on to become the group’s leader in Gaza. Dr. Bitton spent hundreds of hours conversing with Sinwar, who provided him with rare insight into the Islamic terrorist group. In 2004, Bitton saved Sinwar’s life by discovering a brain abscess and getting him the necessary medical treatment. At the time, Sinwar promised Bitton that he would eventually repay his kindness. On October 7, 2023, Hamas terrorists murdered his nephew.

I spoke to Dr. Bitton on Sunday.

How does it feel to forever be known as the dentist who saved the life of Yahya Sinwar? It must be a burden to carry around with you.
I’m sure that everyone who hears the story wonders how I could have done that rather than let him die. The story is particularly painful to me because after I saved his life he took the life of my nephew. My sister’s son was murdered during this war after he tried to save people from his community. What makes it even worse is that I know Sinwar personally; he told me that he owed his life to me and would repay me one day. Although I didn’t have high expectations of that, on October 7 not only did he not repay his debt but he took the lives of so many others.

You saved his life back in 2004.
Correct. I was working in the prison’s clinic when Sinwar came in complaining of neck pain and losing his balance. I quickly diagnosed his symptoms as a stroke, and together with a colleague who was a general practitioner we decided to take him to the hospital. It turned out that he was suffering from a brain abscess, and he was operated on that same day. That saved his life, because if it had ruptured he would have died immediately.

And you have no regrets over what you did?
People always ask me that question. My answer is no. First of all, it was my professional obligation as a doctor to help every person. Second, these are our values both as Jews and Israelis. We aren’t taught to hate our enemies. We don’t desire vengeance. We know the righteousness of our path, why we are here and what we need to do in order to survive. When [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat visited Israel in 1979, I was a 13-year-old boy. I stood by the side of the road waving the Israeli and Egyptian flags together with my entire school. We cheered the person who up until then had been our greatest enemy. This was the man who had said that he was ready to sacrifice a million Egyptian soldiers to destroy Israel. But when he spoke to us in the language of peace, we responded in kind. So although we don’t hate our enemies, we also know who they are and what they are capable of.
There is a paradox that we call the Jewish State. Initially, we were only 650,000 citizens surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs who have large countries with vast resources, capabilities and armies. How were we able to survive? It’s only because of the Jewish spirit and our moral advantage. We aren’t like our enemies; we don’t sanctify death, we sanctify life.

What was your position in the prison?
In 1996 I began working as a dentist in Nafcha Prison in Beersheva. That was where I first met Sinwar and the entire Hamas leadership that is currently outside the country. By then they were already the leaders of the younger inmates. Back then, there were 800 terrorists imprisoned in the Israel Prison Service. I worked in that capacity until the end of 2007, when I was transferred to the intelligence branch of the Prison Service. I became the intelligence officer of Ketziot Prison, where 3,000 terrorists were being held. The entirety of the Hamas leadership in Yehudah and Shomron was in Ketziot at the time. After that, I had a number of other positions including as head of the terror department. I was responsible for the intelligence that was collected from the 12,000 security prisoners in the system. After three years of that, I became head of the research department, meaning that I was responsible for both the security prisoners and crime organization prisoners. Then in 2015 I was promoted to head of the entire intelligence division, a position I held for four and a half years. I left the Prison Service in 2022. These days, I serve as an expert on both Hamas and terror.


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