Just a day following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, 220 Israelis, comprising teams of doctors and rescue and relief workers, are already on their way.
With more than 100,000 people feared dead in Haiti, Israeli relief teams of more than 200 people were readying in Foreign Ministry-leased airplanes Thursday to head to the devastated country, ravaged by an earthquake earlier this week.
Among the Israeli teams on their way to provide humanitarian aid in Haiti is a medical team of 12 from IsraAID, an early response relief group that springs into action after natural disasters, as well as some 200 others called on by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Thursday afternoon, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued this announcement: “Israel is doing all in its power to help the people of Haiti cope with the disaster in their country. A 220-person delegation, headed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, will leave this evening for Port-Au-Prince on two Boeing 747 jets leased from El Al by the IDF.
“The relief package includes a Home Front Command field hospital and rescue unit, as well as teams from Magen David Adom and Israel Police.”
On Wednesday, Israel’s prime minister ordered the country’s Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Public Security Ministry officials to gather a team to help the Caribbean nation deal with its humanitarian crisis.
Though the phone lines were down in Haiti, the Israelis were able to establish contact with Amos Radian, the nearby Israel ambassador to the Dominican Republic. He has since been instructed to proceed to Haiti to report on the situation there, according to government reports.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Embassy in the US has been called on to coordinate Israeli efforts with American aid offices, so the Israelis will be ready to provide medical aid where it is most needed.
A history of helping
Mooli Dor, a businessman and board member of IsraAID, and chairman of NISPED, an organization based in southern Israel that promotes peace and development, was pleased to see the quick and orchestrated response by Israeli’s Foreign Ministry. Usually, it is IsraAID that steps in at the Ministry’s behest, providing invaluable medical assistance wherever tragedy strikes.
Most recently, the IsraAID group and its affiliated volunteer organizations operated in Sri Lanka after the tsunami; flew in to help Samoa after typhoon floods struck there, and gave support to cyclone-ravaged Myanmar, where they continue to supply long-term community aid. After providing immediate aid, it is common for the group to continue with ongoing support, also supplying rehabilitation assistance to help those devastated by natural disasters rebuild their lives.
“This afternoon we are sending a delegation of 12 people,” says Dor. The medical and support staff will be flown to Port au Prince in the same aircraft as Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
“We’ve been trying to contact the local organizations that are part of our network so we can see how to manage our volunteers. Yet, because of downed phone lines, we haven’t been able to make contact,” he continues. “We hope that by the time they’ll be there we’ll have made contact with them.”
Reports on the ground say that dozens of UN staff stationed in Haiti have been killed. As the dust settles, reporters at the scene are saying that the devastation is unimaginable.
Strange twists of fate
While Israel is just one of many countries rushing to proffer aid, like the US and many more, the teams from Israel also plan to provide emergency medical care over the next two or three weeks where they can “concentrate on medical assistance,” says Dor. After the assessment on the ground has been completed, IsraAID and others from the Ministry will be better able to assess the type of longer-term relief that will be needed by the very poor nation.
Dor, a board member of IDB, an Israeli business group worth $30 billion, expects that NISPED will be on the ground helping to rebuild Haiti when the rubble is cleared away. The group is already working in China, Burma and the Philippines, he says.
Dor was personally acquainted with Mexican businessman Moises Saba, who perished along with three family members in a helicopter crash Sunday in Mexico. In a strange twist of fate it was members of ZAKA, an organization that Saba helped to fund, who rushed to the scene to remove the deceased from the helicopter wreckage. Still stationed in Mexico, the Israeli ZAKA crew continued on to Haiti to assist in humanitarian efforts there, and is expected to be the first Israeli team on the ground.
Dor knew Saba through IsraAID, as the Mexican Jewish businessman had expressed interest in supporting IsraAID in its efforts to provide vital humanitarian aid worldwide. The ZAKA team is recognized by the United Nations as a volunteer humanitarian organization that has tremendous disaster relief experience following its work in the aftermath of the Katrina hurricane and the recent East Asia tsunami.
Full ISRAEL21c coverage of Israel’s relief efforts in Haiti: