A medical mission of pride and promise

Our enemies seek to paint IDF as war-seeking, Haiti mission shows just opposite.

By JONATHAN HALEVY
January 25, 2010 05:30
4 minute read.
Lt.-Col. Avi Berman watches over a baby who was re

IDF rescue Haiti baby berman. (photo credit: AP)

 
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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.



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From 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.





Over 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 disasters.



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.

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