x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Week in review: Israel and Haiti

If humanitarian relief work was an Olympic event, Israel deserves a gold medal - at least that seemed to be the opinion of many Israeli commentators in the days after Haiti's catastrophic earthquake in which more than 200,000 Haitians died. After 12 days the Israeli field hospital wound up its operations and headed for home having declared its mission accomplished.

If humanitarian relief work was an Olympic event, Israel deserves a gold medal - at least that seemed to be the opinion of many Israeli commentators. In the days after Haiti's catastrophic earthquake in which more than 200,000 Haitians died, Israelis rescued or aided in the rescue of four people. They provided medical care to about 1,000 people, conducted 300 operations and delivered 16 babies. After 12 days the Israeli field hospital wound up its operations and headed for home having declared its mission accomplished. In The Jerusalem Post, David Horowitz wrote last week: "The Israeli mission to Haiti ... 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." On Wednesday JTA reported that the Israeli military's medical and rescue team in Haiti has concluded its operations. The delegation which included 218 Israeli soldiers and officers and 18 civilians, was due to leave Haiti that afternoon. Under a Jerusalem Post headline saying, "A public relations dream come true", Benjamin Joffe-Walt wrote: "The Jewish state's rapid and extensive response has hardly gone unnoticed by the country's media, diplomats and foreign advocates. Updates from Israel's delegation inHaiti have been sent regularly to hundreds of Israeli and foreign journalists via e-mail, video, blogs and social networking sites. Journalists were even sent a video of Zaka [Israeli emergency response team] volunteers somewhat unsuccessfully leading a group of Haitians in singing "Haveinu Shalom Aleichem" - "We have brought peace upon you." "Israeli newspapers and TV news programmes have dedicated extensive space to coverage of the delegation in Haiti. Former US president Bill Clinton's thanks to Israel made the front page of one of the leading dailies on Wednesday, followed by an article on the effects of Israel's aid entitled, 'Now they love us'. When a Haitian mother who gave birth in the Israeli field hospital decided to name her child Israel, it was the leading item in most local news outlets. " 'Israel sent a very large delegation, and we were one of the first to arrive,' Mati Goldstein, head of the Zaka rescue delegation, said on the phone from Haiti. 'We built a hospital, are treating 300 to 400 people a day and rescued 19 people from the rubble, more than any other delegation.' "Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein said rescue operations were one of Israel's shining lights." Haaretz reported: "The main conclusion of the Haiti mission from an Israeli perspective, said one senior officer, concerns the 'awareness of the citizens and local authorities of the possibility of an earthquake. It is possible that more exercises are needed, but if you prepare properly for a missile attack on the home front, then you have 95 per cent of the tools [needed] at your disposal for dealing with an earthquake,' said the officer. "An analysis of the decision making process on sending the team once again shows that time is the critical factor. Israel moved quickly, in terms of making its decision and making the necessary preparations. "This provided effective help at a very early stage. In the case of Haiti, the rescue operations among the ruins - even though they drew huge media coverage - were downplayed. 'It is very exciting to pull out survivors, but it's a drop in the bucket. We rescued or aided in the rescue of four people, while all the rescue teams from all the countries saved 132 people altogether. It seems almost 200,000 people died in the earthquake,' said the senior officer." In Maariv, Israel's second most popular newspaper, Tamir Haas, a publicist and media consultant, wrote a commentary a translation of which appears at Mondoweiss. "At a time when our country is under media attack on the basis of harsh and anti-Semitic reports, and we are forced to contend with terrorists who have assumed the winning image of victims of war, one could say that the Haiti disaster is the best thing that could have happened to us. So why are blood, destruction, poverty, hunger and orphans good for the Jewish State? First of all because global attention has been drawn elsewhere and the international media have a more interesting story to cover. Second, because every disaster-area needs a hero, and right now we are it. I must admit that I would not be surprised if the image aspect of setting up a hospital in Haiti, as well as the IDF rescue efforts, was given greater weight than humanitarian considerations. If I am right, then finally, someone in the Knesset has done the right thing, deciding to take advantage of the opportunity to prove to the world how kindhearted and capable we are. And if the Foreign Ministry manages to make further use of the Israeli success stories in Haiti and market them to the world, all the better. We can only hope that none of our talented politicians is caught in front of a camera saying 'We showed the world. We were really awesome in Haiti,' or something like that - a distinct possibility considering the recent mess with the Turks. Better to be modest."

pwoodward@thenational.ae