Israel Correspondent Jules Kramer reports on Israel's first responder efforts in Haiti.

Israel Among First Responders to Haiti

IDF LogoAs the dust begins to settle in Haiti, many questions remain. Have 100,000 people lost their lives? Or is it closer to 200,000? How many orphans? How many parents lost children? How many lost spouses? What percentage of people affected will remain handicapped forever? How many are homeless?

In the coming weeks many of these questions will find answers, and many more questions we haven’t even begun to contemplate, will come to light. What will the cost of rebuilding be? Who will do it? How long will it take? Will the international community make good on their monetary/aid relief commitment to this poor impoverished nation? Will we remember Haiti this time next month? Or will this incident be lost to the histories?

In these situations we must act fast. Not only to save as many lives a possible, but to do as much good as possible while this incident continues to tickle the frontal lobes of our collective conscience. And react swiftly we have. The international community has responded in spades. It would seem that the whole world has come forth and pledged aid.

World contribution totals thus far have reached more than $833,649,000 from over 29 countries, and more will continue to pour in. Many have sent delegations, to assess and react to conditions on the ground. From shipments of insulin for the diabetics, to aerial drops of food and essential survival equipment. Search and rescue teams have been sent, and doctors have massed. Everyone has shown up. Given the unfortunate opportunity to help those in need, we have (thank god) answered the call.

There is however one country who isn’t mentioned. Not listed among the countries who have given aid, but should be. Not mentioned in the majority of reports about responders on the ground, but should be. A country, and I’m paraphrasing heavily from a friend, who has taken the horrific lessons of war and terror and transformed them into a gift that can be used to help the less fortunate.

Israel is no stranger to disaster. Has had its fair share of trouble, and has seen much mayhem over the years. But from the ashes of tragedy, a system of relief has prevailed. A system that, as it turns out, has incredible benefits for the international community and those in need.

The IDF Home Front Command constantly trains its search and rescue forces to respond accurately to emergencies,” an IDF spokesperson told Israel News Agency. “The IDF frequently holds search and rescue exercises in cooperation with civilian Israel and international organizations, such as the Reliant Mermaid X exercise in August 2009, in which Turkey, US, and Israel naval and aerial forces cooperated. The IDF Home Front Command and the Israel Ministry of Health are also currently holding an international conference for emergency preparedness and response, to share its experience with hundreds of international officials.”

As we saw with the 2009 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Turkey, the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, and a slew of other natural disasters, Israel was there. Haiti is no different. When the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Port au-Prince on January 12, the idea of not providing assistance never even surfaced. Within 48 hours, from across the world, the first Israeli team landed in Haiti ready to work. GOC Home Front commander Maj-Gen Yair Golan, and IDF Surgeon General Brig-Gen Nachman Ash were among the first team to land. There to assess the situation and report how big the delegation from Israel must be, they went right to work.

The first Israeli delegation was closely followed by the rest of the team. As of now Israel is operating at full force in Haiti. The search and rescue team is made up of elite army corps engineers, and medical units to deploy field hospitals. Five crews from the Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue Unit have been deployed in the area. 121 people from the medical corps team, including 40 doctors, are also operating in the disaster zone.

A massive Israeli field hospital and community clinic has been established at the soccer stadium in the center of Port au-Prince. The Israeli team will spend two weeks operating in Haiti, and plan on treating at least 500 people a day. With state of the art equipment such as x-ray, CT scanners, ventilators in the ICU, and multiple operating rooms, Israel is poised to make a big impact.

Thus far the results have been enormous. Israeli search and rescue has assisted in finding and rescuing many people trapped under rubble. The medical staff has treated well over 200 people, performed at least 25 life-saving surgeries, and even facilitated three births. Rumors are circulating that even the Americans are sending patients to Israeli facilities.

Civilian organizations operating from Israel have also acted as first responders to this terrible incident. Magen David Adom has sent a mission to Haiti, joining the international search and rescue team. This mixed rescue team has been successful in pulling approximately a hundred people out of destroyed buildings. Other organizations from Israel such as Israel Flying Aid, and IsraAID have contributed to ongoing efforts.

IsraAID is an Israel-based first response organization that is no stranger to this type of work. They have been involved with relief efforts all over the world. They were on the ground during Hurricane Katrina, have established many medical facilities in Ethiopia, were at hand during the Russian invasion of Georgia, the earthquake in Turkey, and presently are operating in Haiti. Arriving two days after the earthquake struck, IsraAID’s fifteen member delegation in Haiti consists of doctors, nurses, paramedics, and logisticians. Their support is acquired through donations from UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, American Jewish Committee, B’nai Brith International, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and many other Federations throughout North America.

Even as I sit and write this article, reports are coming in that a strong aftershock has just hit Haiti, amounting to a 6.1-magnitude temblor. A clear sign that there is still much work to be done. Thousands are trapped, and even more are homeless. Multitudes remain without food or water, and still others are waiting to receive medical attention. Infrastructure has been destroyed and a country that was teetering on the brink has been devastated. The responsibility to correct this dreadful situation, as Israel understands, falls on the international community.

There is not a single person, myself included, whose heart does not weep for the victims of this freak disaster. But this is today, and today is right in front of us. What will be a month from now, and for that matter what will be a year from now? Haiti most definitely will not be fully recovered, but we will. We will have moved on to the next this, or a bigger that. And who can blame us? We are not from Haiti. We were not directly affected by this disaster. Even so, we must make sure that in the months that follow Haiti isn’t just another forgotten disaster, left to mend its wounds on its own. We have a collective responsibility to help the less fortunate. As this crisis continues to unfold my thoughts and prayers are with all families that have been deeply affected by this disaster.

About Jules Kramer

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