Facing devastation and destruction compounded by mind-numbing humidity and heat, a delegation of some 150 members of the IDF’s Home Front Command have “set up shop” in Bogo, a poor agricultural town on Cebu Island in the Philippines.
In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, thought to be the most powerful storm ever to hit land, which has left about 4,000 dead and two million displaced or homeless, the IDF delegation situated itself in an abandoned and wrecked hospital, repaired the caved-in roof and began triage on hundreds of victims, most of them suffering dehydration, diarrhea, fever or respiratory problems. The Israeli team, inter alia, restored a 70-year-old man’s sight after a nail struck him in the eye during the storm. And just one hour after the field hospital was set up, the first baby was born.
Dr. Reuven Keidar congratulated the parents, saying “Mazal tov. It’s a boy.”
Audrin Antigua held her newborn son, and declared: “We choose the name ‘Israel’ as just saying thank you to the Israeli people.”
What is it that motivates Israel to respond to humanitarian crises caused by natural disasters? It is not just that Israel has a special relationship with the Philippines because of the large number of guest workers from that country living here. We responded in a similar way in 2011 when an earthquake hit Turkey, and in 2010 when Haiti had its own earthquake.
After all, Israel has many problems of its own, including defending itself against terrorism from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and south Lebanon.
Then there are the challenges of absorbing immigrants from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Also, much of Israel is arid desert, and until we began desalination, we were constantly short of water.
Israel is so ready to extend aid in part precisely because we have grappled with and overcome so many difficulties. Our experiences give us so much to offer others. In dealing with our own unique challenges, Israelis have become experts at dealing with emergency scenarios; have the know-how to develop agriculture in deserts; and have developed water conservation techniques in a region that is desperately short of water.
In 1957, less than a decade after the foundation of the state, Israel established its MASHAV international development cooperation program, at a time when Israel was itself a developing country. Under Golda Meir’s direction, MASHAV took upon itself to provide aid on a grassroots level to numerous African nations.
Unfortunately, Israel’s efforts to provide international aid were hurt by the turn toward anti-Zionism orchestrated by the Soviet Union among Third World countries, particularly after the Six Day War.
Suddenly, it became political fashionable and politically expedient vis-à-vis the Soviets to vilify the Jewish state. It was around this time (1975) that the UN General Assembly equated Zionism with racism, with the backing of Third World nations – including those on the African continent that had so recently received significant aid from this “racist” state.
And this brings us to another reason for Israel’s readiness to help others. So widely criticized for its supposed human rights abuses, its “war crimes,” its “occupation,” Israel is eager to show its true face.
The satirical TV show Eretz Nehederet (“A Wonderful Land”) has laughed at Israelis’ visceral need for international acknowledgment of the altruistic, morally upright side of the Jewish state. Israel is not just about military conflict, the war against terrorism or volatile ethnic and religious confrontations, Israelis want the world to know.
For a brief interlude this has been the message received by the world from NBC’s medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Fox News, Reuters, The Associated Press and other news agencies. For a while, at least, the world has glimpsed a completely different facet of the IDF, not one of war and strife but of compassion and caring, efficiency and humanitarian help.