Rescue nation

One category which Israelis are especially proud is the country’s global role in disaster relief.

ZAKA, IDF leave for rescue mission to Brazil (photo credit: Courtesy)
ZAKA, IDF leave for rescue mission to Brazil
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel punches above its weight in many areas including intelligence, technology, agriculture, scientific research and culture. Of these, one category which Israelis are especially proud is the country’s global role in disaster relief.
Thus after a dam collapsed in Brumadinho, Brazil on Friday, killing several dozen and leaving at least 200 missing, Israel sent a search and rescue team to locate survivors and the dead. The 200-member IDF Home Front Command delegation, comprised of 130 soldiers and officers and 70 reservists, flew half way across the world on Sunday to help. Among them are engineering experts, doctors, firefighters and search-and-rescue personnel. They are equipped to locate cellular signals, and have brought drones to create aerial pictures of the disaster zone.
As well, the team includes ZAKA experts equipped with  sonar devices who specialize in recovering bodies. The organization’s chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said, “It is a moral obligation to offer help and assistance to those in need, regardless of religion.”
The Interior Ministry also provided emergency supplies, including tents, generators, and sleeping bags, as well as 1,000 nonperishable meals and heating packs for the IDF team.
This is the IDF Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue Brigade’s first mission as a member of the United Nations’ International Search and Rescue Advisory Group. But for nearly three decades, the IDF has been involved in many search and rescue missions, and has provided medical aid in far-flung disaster sites in Mexico, Haiti, the Philippines, Japan, Turkey and Nepal.
The IDF has provided medical care to more than 2,300 people, and saved 220 from certain death.
MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, has had a humanitarian aid agenda since 1958. It has provided humanitarian relief to more than 140 countries, some of which do not have diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.
Thus Israel sent aid to Indonesia last year, and offered to help Iran following an earthquake there. Regrettably, Tehran rebuffed the sincere offer.
Moreover, Israeli organizations have been involved in relief around the world. IsraAID has helped out in California, Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Uganda, and more. Another international human aid organization, NATAN, has worked to provide medical aid to displaced Syrian civilians, and rebuild monsoon-ravaged sites in the Indian state of Kerala. Both agencies have responded to the refugee crisis in Europe, aiding asylum-seekers entering through Greece.
For the past seven and a half years during Syria’s civil war, the NGO Israel Flying Aid has saved the lives of Syrian women and children by providing more than 3 million dry meals and $8 million worth of medical equipment, as well as 1,255 tons of food, blankets and temporary shelter. IFA is currently establishing orphanages around the world, modeled after kibbutz children’s homes.
Israeli technology has also helped in rescue missions, including saving the Thai youth soccer team trapped in a flooded cave. Yavne-based Maxtech Network’s emergency mobile communications tools played a key role in rescuing the boys, whose plight captured the world’s attention.
Not just the “start-up nation,” Israel is the “rescue nation.” Israelis are world-class experts in helping people struck by natural and man-made disasters. The Foreign Ministry website boasts “No other country can dispatch search and rescue teams, and field hospitals as fast and effectively.” While unfortunately Israel has come by that expertise in handling mass casualties through bitter experience, the country gladly shares that knowledge worldwide.
ZAKA is a Hebrew acronym for “Disaster Victim Identification.” But its full name is ZAKA – Identification, Extraction and Rescue – True Kindness. Meshi-Zahav said on Sunday that part of ZAKA’s mission is “to sanctify the divine name and Israel around the world.” The actions Israelis have taken to help people around the world are doing just that.
In an election season, when divisions are emphasized and people label one another by their political views, our soldiers and volunteer emergency responders in Brumadinho are a facet of the country, around which all Israelis can unite with pride.