Israeli Ambassador to Thailand Meir Shlomo visits flooded Thai cave site .
(photo credit: HERB KEINON)
For the last few days the whole world has been drawn together, witnessing the most intense human drama. As the rescue of the 12 members of the Wild Boar football team and their coach carries on, people across the globe have been watching and praying together with the boys and their families.
The story of the youths trapped in a complex warren of caves in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province is truly incredible. They survived for nine days without food or sustenance until they were discovered.
The rescue mission has proven to be one of the most complex ever carried out. The boys, none of whom know how to swim and all of them weak after their ordeal, had to be guided two at a time through the narrow flooded passageways, escorted by experienced divers who carried the boys’ oxygen tanks in addition to their own.
The FIFA World Cup in Russia has brought the world together in sporting rivalry; the story of the young Thai football players has united the world in a heartwarming positive way.
One can only be awestruck by the way the youths, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach have handled the situation. The resilience, fortitude and bravery displayed by the boys is inspiring.
So too is the courage and humanity of the rescue teams extricating the trapped youths from deep within the underground labyrinth, a journey there and back of some treacherous nine kilometers, under threat of dwindling oxygen supplies, possible reflooding from the heavy rains and rock falls.
Relief as the first of the boys emerged from the bowels of the earth was felt everywhere. It can only be likened to a rebirth.
Rescue teams from Thailand, the US, the UK, Australia and China brainstormed the best way to carry out the mission. True to its tradition of helping around the world whenever it can – true tikkun olam (fixing the world) – Israelis also offered what assistance they could. Israel’s ambassador Meir Shlomo traveled to the site to see how the country could offer aid. The initial communication system, capable of being able to relay messages to and from the boys trapped underground, was set up by an Israeli company. In addition, Israelis are part of the support team for the divers entering the maze of caves.
The ambassador told the Thai government that Israel was willing to do all it could to help ensure a successful rescue. And it’s not an empty promise.
IDF Home Front Command search and rescue teams, along with NGOs like ZAKA and IsraAID, have been at the forefront of such missions in the past in places ranging from Haiti, Nepal, Turkey, Mexico and, most recently, following the deadly volcanic eruption in Guatemala.
The goal is to save lives, true to the well-known Talmudic precept “whoever saves one life, it is as if they have saved the whole world.”
The calm and orderly way that the Thai authorities have been carrying out the rescue operation is also admirable.
While altruism and selfless desire to help is second nature to Israelis in times of war and disaster, so too, it seems, is the instinct to apportion blame and responsibility – often before the incident itself has been concluded. One recent example was the aftermath of the death of 10 students from the Bnei Zion pre-military academy in Tel Aviv, who lost their lives in April when they were caught in a flash flood while hiking in the Arava. There were immediate calls to close pre-military programs, even some not connected to the incident.
Authorities and individuals should not be able to evade responsibility, but with any disaster or potential one, what is most important is to study what happened, learn from it, and use the information to save lives in the future.
The lesson of the trapped soccer team in the caves of Thailand has inspired millions. Let’s not forget the lessons we can learn from it as well.