IDF rescue Haiti baby berman.
(photo credit: AP)
In recent days, the international press covering
the relief operations in Haiti has been awash in astonishing reports
commending Israel's tremendous work in medical disaster response and
setting up a field hospital operation that has other nations looking on
in awe. Even as these reports have left us feeling intense pride in our
soldiers sent on this remarkable mission, our reaction back home has
been one of far less surprise.
CBS to CNN to MSNBC and numerous other outlets across the media
landscape, wide-eyed medical reporters have been witnessing the Israeli
operation with an underlying tone of combined admiration and jealousy.
Why is it that of the dozens of countries contributing to the
relief effort, with delegations of all shapes and sizes, it's the
Israelis who travel halfway around the world and within hours have a
fully operational hospital in place? Journalists point with amazement
at our mobile imaging machinery and sedated patients on ventilators and
ask outright why anyone else can't be doing this.
THE REASON we're not surprised is because we know that we've
been training for years for just these types of scenarios. We can also
appreciate that Israel sees part of its mandate as a military and
medical leader to make sure that expertise and know-how will benefit
the international community should the opportunity present itself.
And so, as much as our enemies desire to paint the
IDF solely as a hawkish, war-seeking powerhouse, this mission shows
just the opposite to be true.
Admittedly, our adeptness in launching these types of
operations stems from a history of confronting hostilities and being
prepared to address every possible threat. I personally recall from my
days as commander of a field hospital in the First Lebanon War that we
set up such a field medical facility within hours and that "real-life"
training was just one of many invaluable tests that would benefit the
IDF Medical Corps in the future.
the years, the brave men and women of our army have recalled those
lessons on all too many occasions, both here and just as often in ports
of call in other parts of the world.
So when the news came across the wires last week that Haiti had been rocked by a devastating earthquake, the question was never if
Israel would be there to respond, but only how soon
Those of us involved in emergency management and
disaster response know all too well that Israel has a unique advantage
over most, if not all, nations in this discipline. Rarely does a week
go by where somewhere in the country a major drill is not held in one
of our hospitals in this specific area. Our protocols and emergency
departments have become models for hospitals all around the world.
Despite our relatively small size and urban landscapes that
pale in comparison to most of the West, our Home Front Command has made
it a principal training objective to remain ever-ready for all types of
EVEN WITH the very limited traditional communication tools that
exist between Israel and our rescue teams in Haiti, I have had the
chance to be in touch with my colleagues from Shaare Zedek on a couple
of occasions since they landed in the earthquake zone. The underlying
tone that comes across is one of overwhelming shock at the scope of the
disaster they face, yet they admit that they felt as prepared as
humanly possible for the medical realities they were confronting.
What has been most challenging without a doubt has been the
emotional experiences. Many of those in the field hospital are seasoned
veterans of the military and have treated hundreds if not thousands of
victims of warfare and terrorism.
However, they report that perhaps more than ever before, in
Haiti desperate questions of medical ethics are being asked even before
the ones over the best course of treatment. Each patient must be judged
based on the chances for his or her survival. The medical process will
then only commence if the doctors and nurses believe that this case has
better stakes for a positive outcome that the victim that lies
immediately next in line.
These are devastating questions for even the most hardened
medical professional and ones that are challenging Israel's medical
teams countless times each day.
Beyond these stories of disaster and loss, the Israeli
experience in Haiti still promises to be one of hope and promise. The
world has quickly learned that the "successes" we are achieving there
have come because we appreciated the continuous need for this type of
training. Even more so, it is recognizing that we have a role in
contributing to the greater welfare of the international community.
Perhaps it's unfortunate that it's taken the devastating
tragedy in Haiti for the world to understand this invaluable lesson
that Israel has an enormous amount of good to contribute, both in good
times and bad. Yet, we can also be hopeful and confident that it's one
it won't soon forget.
The writer is director-general of Shaare Zedek Medical
Center in Jerusalem. At present three Shaare Zedek physicians and its
head nurse are involved with medical relief efforts in Haiti.