NEW YORK (JTA) — The terrible disaster in Haiti has shown the world not only the power of Mother Nature but the power of the human heart. All over the world, aid has been pouring in to rescue trapped survivors and provide medial services to the hundreds of thousands of victims.
The juggernauts of the international community, the United States especially, have provided a tremendous amount of help. What has come as a surprise to many has been the expertise shown by one of the world’s smallest and furthest countries to make the journey to the Caribbean: the State of Israel.
Israel, a nation of 7.5 million, immediately sent more than 220 people to Haiti, even though no Israeli citizens were missing or declared dead. The delegation consists of Israel Defense Forces rescue units, Magen David Adom, Israel Police and a medical staff of more than 120.
Most of the delegation are IDF reservists called up especially for the mission. More aid and delegation members are arriving daily. Israel is sending food, water and equipment.
The help is ongoing and evolving to the needs of the people.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Our decision to immediately dispatch a large delegation of doctors, nurses, medics, rescue forces as well as drugs and medical equipment to Haiti expresses the deep values which have characterized the Jewish people and the State of Israel throughout history."
Search-and-rescue teams combed the area looking for survivors while an Israeli field hospital was established in Port-au-Prince.
The Israeli Home Front Command Field Hospital can handle 500 patients a day, and includes an emergency room, two surgical rooms, X-ray equipment, a maternity ward, an incubation ward, a children’s ward, a pharmacy and more. While the field hospital will largely treat trauma patients, similar to those encountered in a war, specialists in various other fields also have been sent. But this is only the beginning.
For years Israel has volunteered its experience in search-and-rescue operations around the world, from previous earthquake disasters in India and Turkey to recovering from recent terror attacks in Kenya.
But Israel’s aid does not only come during times of worldwide attention. Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, MASHAV, has been helping countries from around the world on a variety of issues — from areas of agriculture to helping create small businesses — for more than 60 years. Before the quake shook Haiti, Israel had been working with the people there to help them establish business and better provide for their families.
The Israeli aid to Haiti will not end with the delegation. The Israeli hospital will be operating there for as long as it is needed, offering services beyond emergency care. It has social workers on the ground to deal with the trauma of the ordeal and the smallest victims of the quake’s aftermath: Haiti’s orphans.
Currently recuperating in the Israeli field hospital is a 7-month-old girl. The doctors don’t know her name; no one else from her family survived the deadly earthquake. She has no one left in the world. What will happen to her once everyone goes home?
Trying to find solutions to such issues is why the Israeli delegation will stay in Haiti.
In Hebrew we use the phrase tikkun olam, literally meaning “repairing the world.” As a prosperous nation, Israel not only has the passion but also the means to better society as a whole. Working to help the people of Haiti is just one more project MASHAV has taken on. As long as they want us, we will be there for the Haitian people.
Israel places a high value on a human life. We strongly believe in the Talmudic teaching of “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Our doctors and medical personnel in Haiti see this as a mitzvah and not a job.
(Asaf Shariv is the consul general of Israel in New York.)