Israel’s first humanitarian aid organization will touch down in Japan today to help rescue and relief efforts in the island nation. An hour after the horrifying earthquake and devastating tsunami struck Japan, Israel pledged its support to help.
The UN-recognized ZAKA organization (a Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victims Identification) dispatched one team from Israel last night, and a second ZAKA group based in Hong Kong was to leave for the quake area overnight.
ZAKA’s experts have extensive experience assisting at natural disasters around the world, including Haiti, the tsunami in Thailand and the Katrina hurricane in New Orleans.
Upon news of the world record earthquake, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered a message to the Japanese government saying that the “people of Israel express their deep sorrow over the tragedy in Japan, and that he will work to provide any help that will be required.”
“Israel officially offered its help an hour after the earthquake struck,” Japan consul in Israel, Mitoshiko Shinomya, told local Israeli media. “It is very heart-warming, but at this point we do not know exactly what the extent of the damage is, so it is difficult for us to say what can be done.”
The 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck a nation said to be the leader in earthquake-ready preparation. But the damage was insurmountable, wiping out and submerging entire coastal towns. Japanese officials believe the death toll will be in the thousands.
In addition to ZAKA, other Israeli and Jewish humanitarian organizations grouped together to help the Japanese.
IsraAID-FIRST, an Israeli umbrella group of relief organizations, said it was preparing to send a team of experts to assist in relief efforts.
“We’ve been looking past few hours at the damage and the needs,” IsrarAID head Shahar Zehavi said. “Our main agenda is to send a delegation of earthquakes specialists and water purification experts to the region.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said six Israelis – five who live in Japan, one traveler – have yet to make contact with family or ministry officials. Contact has been made with nine other Israelis who were in Japan at the time of the natural disaster.
Following last month’s earthquake in Christchurch, Israel sent emergency supplies including water purification equipment and temporary shelters to New Zealand.