A regional emergency response team of Jordanians and Israelis is forging collaboration that could save lives and contribute to real peace between the two peoples.
The tragedy that struck Haiti recently is a vivid wakeup call for authorities in Israel and neighboring countries. The area surrounding Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the city of Jericho controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and Amman, Jordan are all at risk from a major earthquake that could topple the region.
Historically, major quakes hit the Holy Land area every hundred years or so, with one potentially due at any time. Are medical personnel in Israel and neighboring regions prepared for the worst? A new joint project between the Jordan Red Crescent and Ben Gurion University of the Negev is the catalyst for Jordanians and Israelis to pool resources and create a partnership so that in the event of such a crisis, their two countries will have emergency forces in place to handle the worst.
Launched in October, the three-year academic medical emergency training program is in the process of teaching young Jordanians and Israelis how to work together as a frontline team in a concerted regional response to emergency scenarios.
A central element of the program is a Development Strategic Forum (DSF) whose members are key officials from Jordan and Israel. The project is supported by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MASHAV program), the European Union and private donors.
Rapid response to a humanitarian crisis
While Israel and Jordan are at peace, there is scarcely any normalization of relations between the two countries. But in a bold move, Dr. Mohammed Al-Hadid, president of the Jordan Red Crescent Society and chairman of the Standing Commission of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, decided the time was ripe to seek cooperation with his Israeli neighbors for the good of both sides.
In full agreement with him is Dr. Bruria Adini, head of the emergency response-training program that has 15 Jordanian and 13 Israeli students enrolled and living at Ben Gurion University. She tells ISRAEL21c that a rapid and effective response to a humanitarian crisis is the goal.
“When there is disaster at the border or in one country there is a need for collaboration, and help is most effective between countries that are close to each other,” Adini relates.
“You see in Haiti people from all over the world came together. But it takes time. If you put together response resources for both countries, you’ll have a response that’s better than one country alone,” she explains, referring to the thousands of people from around the world, including a team of more than 220 Israeli medical corps and support staff, who pitched in to help in Haiti after the recent devastating earthquake.
A dream for the PA, Lebanon and Syria too
Adini is hopeful that this collaboration will go some way to actualizing the peace treaty signed between Israel and Jordan in 1994 after the 1993 Oslo Accords. While there is some ongoing cooperation in the areas of environment and science, with a Jordanian population that comprises about 80 percent Palestinians, and deep, historic suspicions on both sides, it has been difficult to bolster efforts for anything more than a cold peace, like that with Egypt.
Rarely do the two people cross their shared border, officially open for travel and business. And in addition, there is public pressure on those few Jordanians willing to collaborate to cease relationships with Israelis.
It is Adini’s dream that all Israel’s neighboring countries and people, including Palestinians, Egyptians, Lebanese and Syrians, will participate together in classes, talks, training sessions and the crafting of long-term response plans. If trust could be earned and funding was available, she believes that her dream could be realized. Meanwhile, she sees multiple benefits to the cooperation with Jordan, in the realms of managing natural disasters and even outbreaks of flu.
“If there is another major health problem close to the H5N1 virus (bird flu), then we would need collaboration regarding vaccinations and anti-virals. If we have collaboration between nations we would have a more effective response model. We want to be able to take the lessons learned at other disasters around the world and implement them in this region,” says Adini, who works part-time at Ben Gurion University, and the rest of the time with the government health services.
Disaster knows no borders
“I believe once disaster strikes nobody looks into the issue of borders. Cross-country collaboration is very relevant today and is the goal of most countries. We need to put aside frictions and conflict because once there is some sort of disaster, then the goal of all the forces would be the same: A joint and collaborative response that can save lives.”
She praises the work of Ben Gurion University staff and administration and the Jordan Red Cross for their commitment to the cross-country collaboration. Jordan and Israel share part of Israel’s eastern border, from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee to the Red Sea. This border lies along the Syrian African Rift, known to be a fault line and major quake zone. The Dead Sea Transform Fault extends about 621 miles from the Red Sea to Turkey, so technically all the countries situated along it should be prepared.
There was a major earthquake in Jerusalem and the region about 100 years ago; a major and devastating quake in Turkey about a decade ago and small tremors can be felt from time to time throughout Israel.
Jordanians like Hebrew
“For us it’s a very special, challenging and heart-warming project,” Adini relates. “I’ve been to Jordan three times and feel the people there accept us with a lot of respect. There is very good chemistry between us; also with the students. I don’t want to go to the political arena and have no doubt that peace is made between people. Our relationships are wonderful. There is a nice and fluent communication.”
Meanwhile, the Jordanian and Israeli students housed on campus at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, 70 miles south of Tel Aviv, are enjoying their rare opportunity for cross-cultural exchange.
Adini believes that the new program embodies the essence of peacemaking: That it has to happen between people, not governments. She is especially excited with the Jordanian students’ willingness to learn Hebrew, a language spoken by no more than about a dozen million people around the world.
“We were more interested in getting their English up to par and teaching them English, but they’ve been taking it upon themselves to learn Hebrew,” she recounts. “They are learning everyday language through living in Israel, like sayings such as ‘how are you?’ in Hebrew. ‘Happy holidays’ and expressions like that. Hopefully, these expressions that signify genuine interest in the other, will lead to genuine friendship as well.