Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The face of the IDF and Israel in Haiti

The week's news coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti (and the subsequent aftershocks) has been in turn devastating (as we begin to contemplate the scale of the humanitarian disaster), inspiring (as we see aid workers and soldiers working tirelessly to help), frustrating (as the infrastructure imposes limits on the ability of the world to deliver and distribute resources), and motivational (inspiring us to dig deeply into our pockets and offer financial support for the aid efforts).

Every news channel in every country has a tendency to highlight the contributions of its own people - its own aid workers, soldiers, etc.  Of course, the bottom line is that lives are saved and people are sustained and supported, but it is natural for us to notice how well the representatives of 'our people' are doing on the ground.  For American Jews, that means noticing what our US troops and aid workers are doing, and also what those of Israel are doing.

The fact is that, in the aftermath of these kind of humanitarian disasters, Israel is often one of the very first responders - they have the experience, the skills, the technology and equipment to mobilize very quickly with experts who are adept at rescue and emergency medical support.  After the first few days of news coverage in the USA which, rightly, focused on assessing the scale of the devastation and the urgent task of recovering and saving as many lives as possible of those trapped under rubble, the past couple of days have seen a turn to other stories, including the remarkable work of the IDF hospital that arrived and was set up with lightening speed, and has impressed so many American journalists with the equipment, use of technology, and overall competency displayed.

Here, Jewish values and global humanitarian values intertwine.  The goal of every doctor, every soldier and every aid worker in Haiti right now is to save lives.  But I couldn't help but be moved to hear that expressed by an IDF soldier at the end of one of the media interviews thus: 'Every time we save a life here it is like we save a world.'  This is, of course, the citation of a teaching that has been part of Jewish wisdom for over 1,500 years:

  • Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 (37a)
I heard from family in the UK that the perception among the Jewish community there is that the remarkable contribution of the IDF and the IDF hospital has not had the coverage it deserved in the UK television media. [update: @Israeliaid tweeted me with a link to two examples of UK coverage, so there has been some.  See here] For their benefit, and for all those who might have missed the coverage, below are embedded excerpts of several news reports that I hope will inform and inspire.  A summary of all activity by the IDF in Haiti as of today can be found here.
CNN reporting on the difference between IDF Field hospital and US resources in place:

IDF Hospital featured on Fox news, January 17

Link to CBS news coverage of patients being moved from a UN facility to the IDF hospital for treatment:

CBS- “Life-Saving Efforts Continue”, 17 January
These are just a selection of some of the news reporting on the role of the IDF and the IDF hospital over the past few days on US Television.  To keep up-to-date with reports from the IDF, you can check in with this blog.  If you are a Twitter user there are a number of tweets you can follow for up-to-the-minute information, new photos, video coverage, etc. Follow the hashtags #idf #haiti and twitter accounts like @idfspokesperson @idfinhaiti @israeliaid @yaelbt

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