The surprise of it all

The world's astonishment at Israel’s response to the Haiti disaster is insulting. What we saw there was Israel's true face.

February 10, 2010 23:15
4 minute read.
Daniel Kedar squeezes at the IDF hospital the hand

haiti idf hospital 311. (photo credit: E.B. Solomont)


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Israel’s rescue mission in Haiti won universal praise. Most remarkable is the astonishment expressed by the media at how efficient and humane IDF soldiers were.

What? Efficient and humane Israelis? We can accept that Israelis can be efficient. We were told, for years, how adept IDF troops are in fighting terrorists. So it is understandable that they managed to arrive so quickly at the scene of the disaster, even though it is more than 5,000 miles from Israel, and that before anyone else set up even a dingy clinic, they had assembled a state-of-the-art field hospital and were busy saving lives.

But humane? Are these the Israelis who use tanks against children armed with slingshots; an army that everyone accuses of habitually using excess force?

Mon dieu, it could not possibly be that the army of “that shitty little state” is acting with such touching humanity. It is not how we are accustomed to think about Jewish troops.

To those who really know Israel – that is, not exclusively through the distorted lens of the media – the efficiency of its rescue effort and its humanity are not surprising. It’s a country that has had to contend with terrorist atrocities for decades. It’s people’s army is mostly composed of reservists literally defending their homes. So they are strongly motivated to excel in rescue, even at a risk to their own lives.

IDF troops have a lot of painful experience removing the dead, the mauled, the burned and the bleeding from under tons of collapsed concrete and twisted steel in many countries, from Turkey to Thailand. They unfortunately became very proficient in this task.

The country’s citizen army reflects Israeli mores, the good and the bad. The world media does an excellent job publicizing the latter (yes, Israelis are not always as polite and obsequious as the foreign media wants them to be; and yes, they can be rather aggressive; otherwise they could not survive a day in the bloody Middle East).

SO LET us try to slightly balance the picture with a few facts.

Despite the image of Israelis as warlike, intolerant people, the fact is that they are perhaps the world’s most restrained and tolerant..

Ludicrous? Consider the fact that in the wake of dozens of horrendous Palestinian-Arab terrorist attacks on civilians, when the bodies of children, women and the elderly have not yet been removed, Palestinian Arabs whose compatriots and possibly relatives committed these atrocities continued to walk safely in every part of the country.

Sure, the media can always produce shots of small gangs of hysterical adolescents in the aftermath of such terrorist outrages, waving their fists and shouting “Death to the Arabs!” But no crowd actually ever formed to kill Arab passersby. Deeply pained and sometimes very frightened Israelis (you never know when or where the next bomb will strike, since terrorists often plant additional delayed-response bombs to kill  those rushing to the rescue, and you never can be certain that your kids, who left for school or to visit friends, will return safely home), nevertheless repeatedly showed an almost superhuman restraint and refrained from discharging their rage on Arab bystanders.

For decades, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian (before the Oslo Accords, and tens of thousands after) found employment in Israel. Except for about three incidents involving mentally deranged assailants, they were never hurt and always enjoyed freedom of movement.

How many countries can boast that their citizens would act with such self-control? That they would, like the Israelis, exhibit extraordinary tolerance and refrain from attacking Arabs whose compatriots just committed acts of great brutality?

Or how many citizens of other countries would tolerate, like the inhabitants of Sderot and other villages bordering on Gaza, years of random and relentless rocket attacks? In most countries, we can assume citizens would put irresistible pressure on their governments to do everything – yes, even retaliatory and targeted strikes against the terrorist leaders – to put an end to such attacks.

Yet Israel did not.

It took Israeli governments more than seven years (!) before they reacted. Is this warlike and aggressive behavior? Is such extreme restraint reasonable under the circumstances? There are many other examples of Israeli tolerance. Just visit any Israeli hospital and you will be amazed at how many West Bank Arabs are there for treatment. They are treated like any Israeli, with not a scintilla of discrimination.

So yes, occasionally what we see with our own eyes is reality, even if it contradicts media-created spins. What we all saw in the reports from Haiti – the remarkable scenes of Israelis risking their lives to save people only because they are fellow human beings – is the true face of Israel. It faithfully reflects the true nature of a people that even under extended, excruciating bloody attack manages to preserve its humanity.

This piece was written in memory of Abigail Radoszkowicz, z”l, a lover of Zion.

The writer is director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress (ICSEP).

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