Israel went into action the moment the scale of last Tuesday's earthquake disaster in Haiti began to become clear.
same day, the IDF dispatched a five-member preliminary team to
establish what assistance Israel could most usefully provide and to
work out the logistics for providing it.
While other countries dithered, countries both nearer and far
better resourced, Israel utilized the experience born of its previous
earthquake rescue missions - to Turkey, Greece, Armenia and Mexico -
and got down to business.
By Friday, its field hospital in Port-au-Prince was, literally,
operational: Israeli surgeons were saving Haitian lives. Almost a week
later, it remained the best hospital in the blighted Haitian capital.
That same Friday, the IDF's canine rescue teams were
already searching for survivors in the rubble of a destroyed city, as
was the Zaka rescue unit, which quickly extricated eight students from
a collapsed university building. It wasn't only earthquake expertise
that the Israeli experts were calling upon, of course. It was also the
bitter experience learned over years of grappling with Palestinian
OUR "LIGHT unto the nations" Haitian relief effort encapsulated
much of what is best about our country - and encapsulated certain other
aspects of our familiar reality, too.
demonstrated our heartfelt desire to come to the assistance of others
in the time of their greatest need, with no desire or expectation of
reward. Crowds of Haitians cheering "Good job, Israel," over and over,
as an Israeli team brought a survivor safely out of the wreckage of a
Port-au-Prince building earlier in the week; the joyous, impulsive
decision of Gubilande Jean Michel to name her new-born son "Israel"
after doctors at the field hospital had ensured a healthy delivery -
these were all the thanks the rescuers could have wished for. That, and
the kind of simple, heartwarming "Shalom"s that our reporter in the
disaster zone, E.B. Solomont, received whenever she mentioned that she
was working for The Jerusalem Post
. Shalom. Hello. Peace. One more Hebrew word than Haitians might have been expected to know.
The Israeli mission to Haiti also underlined our
capacity to think and act fast and effectively - to pull together and
surmount obstacles at a time of crisis. American TV stations reported
that the US initially sent medical staff with no instruments. More than
two dozen countries ultimately got involved in the relief effort, but
most spent the most precious first hours and days working on plans to
help, or running into all kinds of logistical difficulties - including
finding the means to physically land their rescue planes in the
post-quake chaos at the airport. Meanwhile, the Israeli teams, quietly,
efficiently, and with a minimum of fuss, collected their personnel,
their equipment and all their other essentials, somehow circumvented or
cleared all the obstacles, and went to work.
As this week continued, the prospect of finding survivors
diminished. But even when local Haitians called out to an IDF crew at
one locale on Monday that "they are all dead," the rescue teams
insistently maintained their search. A senior Israeli medical official
had acknowledged early in the week that finding survivors as long as
five days after such a disaster was just about possible, and after six
days almost impossible. But day six came and went, and still the teams
criss-crossed the capital. And they were vindicated, with survivors
still pulled from the wreckage on day seven.
The US and others will doubtless contribute a great deal more
than Israel can to the long-term process of rebuilding Haiti, but the
Israeli medical efforts will also continue long after the international
media spotlight has moved on. For while the hunt for survivors may be
drawing to a close, the medical needs are far from fully addressed. As
of mid-week, well over 2,000 people had found their way to the field
hospital. IsraAID/FIRST and Magen David Adom teams were also
overwhelmed at the scale of the requirements, with the IsraAID team
treating 700 injured Haitians in the first four days of its work. Many
Israeli medical personnel expect to be on the ground in Haiti for weeks
THE ISRAELI teams certainly didn't go out seeking glory, but their mission also constituted extraordinary public relations.
The powers-that-be here had decided that one Israeli newspaper,
one Israeli TV station and one Israeli radio station would be chosen,
ostensibly by lottery, to send a representative to fly out with the
Israeli rescue teams and distribute text, audio and TV footage for
their colleagues. To the surprise of nobody at all, the Israeli
newspaper that "won" the lottery just happened to be the powerful Yediot Aharonot
; to the surprise of nobody at all at the Post
our efforts to explain to the authorities that it might be in Israel's
interest to have a journalist there who could write and speak English,
and tell the story of the Israeli effort to the watching
English-speaking world, fell on deaf ears.
Fortunately, Solomont, our indefatigable New York
correspondent, got to the scene fast and, although Israeli diplomats in
the neighboring Dominican Republic were less than helpful, American
diplomats in Haiti helped her out, and she was graciously looked after
by the IDF mission once she had arrived in Port-au-Prince, so no harm
was done to our capacity to report. Officially hosted Yediot Aharonot
meanwhile, decided that a lawsuit filed by a former employee of Sarah
Netanyahu merited as much coverage on the front page of its newspaper
last weekend as the deaths of tens of thousands of Haitians and the
efforts of Israeli rescue to save and treat the survivors.
Fortunately, too, the sheer efficiency and expertise of the
Israelis, flying in from 16 hours away, when contrasted with the
relatively slow response and meager capabilities of some other nations,
proved a news story that international outlets happened upon by
themselves. NBC's Nightly News
ran a three-minute feature on
the Israeli field hospital, reported by its chief medical correspondent
Nancy Snyderman, MD, who termed the Israeli field hospital "the model
of medical disaster response." Snyderman highlighted its vital
neo-natal intensive-care unit - "that can handle Haiti's most
vulnerable" - and showed a young father there keeping watch on his tiny
baby, the sole survivor of triplets.
CBS branded the Israeli hospital the "Rolls
Royce" of medical installations in Haiti. A BBC report hailed the
Israeli rescue efforts. ABC sent a letter of thanks after the Israeli
hospital delivered a baby to a woman whom its own reporter, a doctor,
had first tried to help himself.
awestruck of all was Elizabeth Cohen, a CNN correspondent in
Port-au-Prince. On Monday, Cohen came across American doctors at
another, hopelessly ill-equipped hospital and heard directly from Dr.
Jennifer Furin, from Harvard Medical School, speaking on camera there,
that her patients were dying "a slow death from their rotting flesh
because the infections are out of control and they need surgery."
"The situation is beyond desperate at this point," said Furin.
"Patients were so thankful to have lived through the quake and now
they're slowly dying in these hospitals."
Added Furin: "No one except the Israeli hospital has taken any of our patients."
Intrigued, Cohen went to check out the IDF field hospital for herself. "I'm just amazed at
what's here. This is like another world compared to the other
hospital," she marveled as she walked from Israeli tent to tent. "My
God, they have machines here! They have actual operating rooms! It's
Back with Dr. Furin, Cohen asked: "So the Israelis have set up
a field hospital. Have the Americans, has the American government, set
up a field hospital?"
Furin: "Currently, not yet."
Cohen: "The Israelis came from the other side of the world?!"
Furin, spreading her hands in bafflement: "It's a frustrating thing that I really can't explain."
Another American doctor chipped in: "It makes you almost embarrassed to be an American."
JUST AS there were those who rose up to criticize America for a
purported heavy-handed takeover of the Haiti relief effort, there were
some, too, who turned on Israel for its response to the disaster.
A few critics within Israel asserted that we had, in the words
of one Ynet Internet columnist, "raced to be first" simply to garner PR
points, and, "like Everest climbers," had placed our "national flag at
the peak to prove that the site has been conquered," but that our
rescue effort had been of little real value.
Considerably more perniciously, one T. West from Seattle posted
a video on YouTube reiterating the lie of Israeli organ harvesting, and
urging Haitians to beware that they not fall victim, which was quickly
picked up by anti-Israel Web sites.
Here and abroad, predictably, there were also those who accused
Israel of hypocrisy over the disaster, claiming that we rush across the
world to save some people while oppressing others on our own doorstep.
This, too, of course, is all part of the familiar Israeli reality - of charge, and counter-charge, and distortion.
We can argue endlessly, and do, about the policies we adopt when
grappling with the Palestinians. But there is one thing that our Haiti
rescue outreach made emphatically clear, and that the Palestinians
might want to ponder: If you're in trouble and you're not trying to kill us, there's no one like the Israelis to help you out.