50 Feet from Syria

A Film Review

50 Feet From Syria is a documentary that follows a Syrian-American surgeon, Dr. Hisham Bismar, on his journey to saving lives during the war zone. The Syrian Civil War has been waging for five years, and has only gotten worse as the years continue. The conflict originally began when civilians peacefully protested the government and the government responded with violence and torture of the civilians. Five years later, there are a multitude of different rebel groups fighting against the government, which has caused the country to be in a massive state of war. Many people have been forced to flee into surrounding countries or have made life-threatening trips to other places in Europe or America to be able to be safe. As of December 2016, there are 4,837,248 refugees from Syria alone. Thus, the Syrian Conflict has caused one of the biggest refugee crises in history. (Jazeera)

This is why Dr. Hisham Bismar wanted to help out his homeland in the best way he could. He flew to Turkey, where there was a hospital on the border of Turkey and Syria, with a bag of donated surgical equipment and hospital supplies. The documentary then shows the extreme situations the patients have been in and how the doctor is helping them live their lives with the best quality in this awful situation. 50 Feet from Syria shines a light on the bigger issues that people face in times of war, such as lack of access to healthcare, lack of a home and family, and the psychological effects of living in a war stricken area.

One of the aspects of war that this documentary explores is the vast amount of destruction of hospitals and thus a lack of access to health care for the victims of war. Even though it is considered a war crime according to the international humanitarian law, the Syrian government has deliberately been bombing hospitals and killing doctors. The government has even arrested many doctors. According to a volunteer of Hand In Hand for Syria, there are 500 doctors, nurses, and aid workers under arrest.  Analysts have stated that the government is using this as a war tactic. Killing doctors results in not only their own life, but also lives of thousands others.2,3 The attacks on hospitals also “incite fear that seeking medical treatment or going to a hospital will result in death, injury, kidnapping, torture, or imprisonment, both for the patient and the medical provider” (Physicians for Human Rights). This causes hesitation in civilians to get treated or seen by a doctor. In areas that are besieged or have no health care access, infectious diseases are widespread due to lack of sanitation and immunizations. According to the article in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, the result of the lack of doctors and healthcare can be seen in the statistic that “since 2012, the conflict has become the leading cause of death in Syria”. There were also 6,000 physicians in Syria before the conflict, and not there are fewer than 70. The physicians that are left now resorted to “field hospitals” that are hidden, underground areas that do not have electricity or fuel. This creates an extreme hardship in the performance of surgeries as the physicians attempt to heal a patient in the dark, and most of the times without painkillers or the correct medicines.4 Many times they even have to perform amputations on people whose limbs could have been saved in different conditions. Bombings, shelling, and air strikes often result in people with limb injuries or missing limbs. Because of the lack of access to equipment, wheelchairs and other adaptive measures are hard to come by, which results in a bad quality life for these victims5 . This war tactic may be beneficial for the government, but it is an extreme humanitarian issue.

As seen in 50 Feet From Syria, this healthcare crisis is the main reason why Dr. Hisham Bismar decided to go to the border of Syria and Turkey, where the only legal hospital is located.  The hospital sends a volunteer to pick up patients at the border and bring them back to the hospital, where Dr. Hisham Bismar and other doctors attend to their illnesses. The patients have sometimes risked everything in order to make it to the border to receive treatment from Al-Almal Hospital. Even though there are so many people with extreme cases, Dr. Hisham does not turn down anyone and works hard in order to treat each patient thoroughly. Even a few surgeries, such as amputations, are shown in the documentary via a surgeon’s phone. The video shows the surgical rooms with floors covered with blood and a hectic team trying to save the patient. One patient one the video was a little boy who had to get both of his legs amputated. This view of the hospital environment was an authentic outlook on what occurs on a daily basis in war zones. 

The documentary not only brings to light the social justice issue of lack of access to medicine during a war zone, but it also enhances psychological effects on everyone involved, especially children because their brain and coping skills are not fully developed. According to Prasad’s research “ more severe psychological reactions are associated with variables such as a higher degree of exposure (e.g., life threat, direct physical injury, witnessing a death or injury), closer proximity to the disaster, history of prior traumas, female gender, poor parental response and parental psychopathology.”  As seen in 50 Feet From Syria, most of the children have suffered injuries due to direct bombings or land mines. The violence in Syria has caused some children to watch their parents or siblings die. Because of this direct violence, it can be concluded that the children of the Syrian Civil War will suffer from more sever psychological reactions, such as acute distress, PTSD, dissociative disorders, or anxiety and substance abuse disorders.7 These disorders can be exhibited through sleep problems, flashbacks, inability to concentrate, panic attacks, or hypersensitivity. According to Purwar’s work,  “Elizur and Kaffman (1982, 1983) followed 25 children 2–10 years of age, 3.5 years after the death of their fathers in war, and found that over half demonstrated over dependent behavior, temper tantrums, and fears, and that 40% manifested pathological bereavement (i.e., symptomatology of such severity as to handicap the child in his everyday life in the family, school, and in his peer relationships).” Even the volunteer at the hospital in Turkey realized the psychological trauma on the children from the war as he states that it is hard to earn the children’s trust. These children have seen some of the most intense violence and hatred and have learned to only rely on themselves. So, the doctors sometimes have a hard time treating the children because the children are so scared. While war does result in psychological trauma in adults, children are more at risk because they usually do not have the coping skills to process the violence around them.

50 Feet From Syria is powerful, thought evoking film that demonstrates the awful results of war, including lack of access to health care and long-term psychological trauma for adults and children. The film does an excellent job of exposing what the victims of the war go through, but it also inspires the viewers to take action by showing Dr. Hisham Bismar’s work in Turkey.




1. Jazeera, A. (2017, February 07). Syria's Civil War Explained. Retrieved from



2. Syrian and Russian forces targeting hospitals as a strategy of war. (2016, March 3). Retrieved

from https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2016/03/syrian-and-russian-forces-


3. Stuart, H. (2013, December 09). Syria War-Zone Medic Explains Government's Tactic Of

Targeting Health Care. Retrieved from


4. Physicians for Human Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved from


5.  Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2016 Feb;13(2):147-55. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201510-661PS 

6.  Aleppo's Reality: Daily Life Under Barrel Bombs. (2015) (1st ed., pp. 1-18). Barcelona.

Retrieved from 


7.  Prasad, A. N., & Prasad, P. L. (2009). Children in conflict zones. Medical Journal Armed

Forces India65(2), 166-169.

8. Anirudh Purwar, Anirudh, Arnab Dhabal, and Diptarka Chakravarty. 1st ed. 2009. Web.

9.  Fitzgerald, S. (n.d.). 50 Feet From Syria - Documentary Film. Retrieved from http://www.50feetfromsyria.com/