“You showed the world the true spirit of the IDF,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday during a welcoming ceremony for the IDF delegation to Haiti.
The team of over 200 officers and soldiers returned to Israel on Thursday, some two weeks after leaving for Haiti where it established a world-renowned field hospital that treated hundreds of patients.
The Israeli team, which earned international praise for its rescue efforts in Haiti, returned home with a five-year-old boy, Woodley Elyse, who is in need of urgent heart surgery.
He was admitted later on Thursday to Wolfson Hospital, where doctors plan to operate on him in the next week.
In an apparent reference to the Goldstone Report, which slammed IDF conduct during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last year, Netanyahu said that the field hospital in Haiti “raised the name of the State of Israel and the name of the IDF.”
“Precisely during these days, during which there are those who conspire against us and distort and degrade the name of the IDF and the name of the State of Israel, you showed the world the true spirit of the IDF,” he said during the ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said that the team was a “source of pride for every Jew and every Israeli.”
The capabilities of the Home Front Command and the Medical Corps were already known in the past,” he said. “In this mission though you crossed new borders.”
Ashkenazi said that during his meetings in Brussels this week where he attended a NATO conference, foreign military chiefs spoke with him about the IDF work in Haiti.
“Every personal conversation, and even formal speeches during the conference, opened with praise for your work,” he said. “As commander of the military, I was excited to represent you. We are proud of you and salute you.”
Home Front Brig.-Gen. Shalom Ben-Aryeh, commander of the delegation, described the extent of the destruction which the delegation witnessed in Haiti, including the complete collapse of all government buildings and institutions. He praised the team, noting that everyone they treated would have died if not for their efforts.
After rescuing Haitians trapped in rubble, he said, they went into “Phase 2,” distributing aid to the devastated population, many of whom were left homeless after the quake.
He said that they decided to pack up the IDF field hospital and return only when it was apparent that the United States could deal with the situation alone.
Meanwhile, a 17-year-old girl pulled from the rubble in a stunning rescue 15 days after the earthquake in Haiti was in stable condition Thursday, able to eat yogurt and mashed vegetables to the surprise of doctors, who said her survival was medically inexplicable.
Hundreds of thousands of other survivors hoped for a breakthrough of another kind – the delivery of badly needed food aid.
Key players in the Haiti earthquake relief effort, in what may prove to be a pivotal meeting Wednesday, decided to better coordinate by dividing up the shattered capital, giving each responsibility for handing out food in certain areas.
Food distribution thus far has often been marked by poor coordination, vast gaps in coverage, and desperate, unruly lines of needy people in which young men at times shoved aside the women and weak and took their food.
“These things should be done in a systematic way, not a random way,” Dr. Eddy Delalue, who runs a Haitian relief group, Operation Hope, said Wednesday of the emergency food program. “It’s survival of the fittest: The strongest guy gets it.”
Wednesday’s rescue of teenager Darlene Etienne from a collapsed home near St. Gerard University, 15 days after Haiti’s great quake killed an estimated 200,000 people, was the first such recovery since Saturday, when French rescuers extricated a man from the ruins of a hotel grocery store. A man pulled Tuesday from the rubble of a downtown store said he had been trapped during an aftershock, not in the original January 12 quake.
Etienne is stable, and has been drinking water and eating yogurt and mashed vegetables, said Dr. Evelyne Lambert, who has been treating the girl on the French Navy hospital ship Sirocco, anchored off shore from Port-au-Prince.
Lambert said that Etienne has a 90 percent chance of survival.
“We cannot really explain this because that’s just [against] biological facts,” Lambert told a news conference. “We are very surprised by the fact that she’s alive... She’s saying that she has been under the ground since the very beginning on the 12th of January so it may have really happened – but we cannot explain that.”
Her family said Etienne had just begun studies at St. Gerard when the disaster struck, trapping dozens of students and staff in the rubble of school buildings, hostels and nearby homes.
“We thought she was dead,” said cousin Jocelyn A. St. Jules.
Then – a half-month after the earthquake – neighbors heard a voice weakly calling from the rubble of a private home down the road from the destroyed university. They called authorities, who brought in the French civil response team.
AP contributed to this report.