The Best Face of Israel

By Amir Shaviv | Issue Date: January 29 2010

In situations of colossal disaster in our world, rescue specialists often have a single, simultaneous thought: “The Israelis!” The earthquake in Haiti was no different: both in Tel Aviv and in New York people were thinking of the expertise that the Israeli Army (IDF) emergency hospital could bring to the devastated ruins of the island. We at the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) have had experience teaming up with the Israelis to save lives during major disasters in recent decades—the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Rwandan massacre in 1994, the earthquake in Turkey 1999—to name a few. No wonder they were one of our first calls in the hours after the magnitude of the destruction emerged from the first reports.

And, indeed, when we contacted the IDF, they were already set to move. Within minutes, we figured out the best way they could help. A military hospital, by its nature, is geared towards treating adults, rather than children, so we supplied the hospital with neonatal equipment, including incubators, for newborns. A speedy response was a paramount consideration, and “the Israelis” were true to their reputation: some 48 hours after the earth shook, the IDF hospital was deployed, with doctors operating and help administered around the clock. The neonatal unit quickly proved to be an excellent idea. Within hours, the first “client” arrived: an injured woman gave birth to a baby, and gratefully named him Israel. The international press, so used to reporting on the name Israel in a negative connotation, was delighted to show a different face of Israel.

As we end this week, the IDF hospital is folding tents to return home. The initial rescue stage is over, and other units have stepped in. A moment of grace and hesed comes to an end. In Haiti, there are many who are cherishing the name Israel with gratitude. In New York, we are left with conflicting thoughts about Israel’s many faces and the media’s many perceptions of Israel.

Amir Shaviv is an executive with the JDC, the Rescue and Relief arm of the American Jewish community.