Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Haiti Earthquake: Israeli Aid Teams Go Into Action


Last Wednesday's horrific 7+ magnitude earthquake in Port Au Prince Haiti, has all but devastated this island nation, said to be the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. This catastrophe, which many seismologists say may dwarf the 2008 earthquake in China (which killed more than 100,000) may even wind up being one of the worst in recorded history with possibly as many as half a million souls lost to the quake's massive destruction, and many thousands more succumbing to disease, hunger, and thirst.


Earthquakes are common in many parts of the world, especially in east and Southern Asia, the American West Coast, Mexico and Central America, and in many of the world's oceans. After all, it was a massive undersea earthquake off the western coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra that resulted in the massive tsunami tidal wave that killed more than 250,000 people on December 26, 2004. Closer to home, the 1999 earthquake in Izmit, Turkey, resulted in more than 17,000 known deaths, and caused widespread devastation. And like this earthquake and the recent ones in Iran and China, the exact death toll will never be known as literally thousands are buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings and will never be found.


Events like the one in Haiti, makes me, as a blogger, inclined to pause and reflect on how these sudden natural calamities not only cause widespread grief and sorrow, but also bring people together in what can be referred as their finest hour, to rescue those trapped, provide food and medical aid for the sick and injured survivors, and even bring smiles to the faces of those who have lost literally everything, including close family members.


When these tragic events occur, there are countries which are ready and willing to send aid to help alleviate the suffering of those most affected by an earthquake or other form of disaster, including a massive car bombing or other act of terrorism. One of these countries, Israel, became involved in this type of action following a massive car bombing of a military police station in southern Lebanon in 1982. This attack, resulting in the deaths of more than 50 border policemen and soldiers, caused the building they were sleeping in to literally collapse. The resulting death toll might have been much less had properly trained rescue teams been available to find and extract people from the rubble. As a result of this tragedy, the Israeli IDF created a special disaster rescue unit that through the years has not only seen action in aiding Israeli victims of disasters, but also many others as well. This rescue team has seen action in place like the US Embassy in Nairobi Kenya, which was the victim of a terrorist bombing, earthquakes and terror attacks in Mexico and other parts of Central and South America and of course the earthquake in Turkey. Israeli aid and medical teams were also call into action in Thailand and Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami there, where they set up a field hospital and also helped to find and identify victims of the tragedy, many of whom were decomposed beyond recognition.


With this new disaster in Haiti now upon us, Israeli rescue and aid units have already been mobilized, including two plane loads of aid workers and badly needed supplies. This aid comes from the people of Israel with the sheer idea of offering aid to their fellow human beings. And like other tragic events that these aid and rescue teams have been involved in, the Israeli delegation will undoubtedly do their part of help alleviate the suffering of many unfortunate victims.


One well known Israeli humanitarian, Abie Nathan, was an outstanding example of an Israeli who gave everything he had to come to the aid of the victims of such disasters – no matter whom or where they happened to be. Nathan's own daughter, living in Haiti for several years, was initially amongst the missing but has since made contact with her family and is thankfully unharmed.


For a short period of time at least, all kinds of people come together to render aid and comfort of those who are victims of such tragic events, and political and sectarian differences are cast aside. The assistance given by aid groups such as those from Israel may make many realize that those giving such aid and comfort, simply are a cut above those who don't – and Israel's tireless disaster aid workers are certainly no exception.

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