A team of Israeli specialists, with expertise in rescue and trauma, was one of the first international help units on the scene in Port-au-Prince following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 13.
But it wasn’t the only help coming from Israel.
Israel dispatched a field hospital, an IDF rescue unit and a 220-person delegation, led by Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, to the Haitian capital on Jan. 14 to help provide medical assistance and aid in rescue efforts to the hundreds of thousands of people devastated by the massive earthquake.
Israel has no ambassador to Haiti, but Amos Radin, Israeli ambassador to the Dominican Republic, flew to Port-au-Prince last Wednesday in order to “assess the situation to find out what the needs were,” Israel’s Consul General in Philadelphia, Daniel Kutner, told The Chronicle.
“The IDF has expertise in finding people from the ruins,” Kutner said. “The expertise comes not only from Israel, but from when we were in Turkey, after the big earthquake [in 1999], and in Buenos Aires in 1994, when [the Association Mutual Israelita Argentina] was blown up,” among other rescue missions, he said.
“Our Mogan David emergency team, regretfully, is very experienced in post-trauma treatment,” Kutner said.
In addition to medical treatment and rescue efforts, members of Israel’s police force were assigned to help maintain law and order during the Haitian catastrophe, according to Kutner.
Although early reports confirmed the “situation was relatively calm,” Kutner said, emergency services and police were “almost nonexistent.”
“There has been a breakdown of state structures, including police and firefighters,” Kutner said. “That could lead to a potentially dangerous breakdown in law and order.”
Kutner said Israel’s delegation planned to stay in Haiti “as long as they are needed,” but that rescue efforts generally only lasted a few days.
“How many days can someone survive?” Kutner asked.
To support Israeli efforts in Haiti, The Jewish Federations of North America have raised more than $2 million for emergency aid to victims of the earthquake. Many Federations are directing funds to our overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Others are sending funds to organizations such as the American Jewish World Service, IsraAID and Mazon.
Locally, the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh has received more than $52,000 in contributions to provide emergency aid to the victims of the earthquake. Those Pittsburgh funds are part of the $2 million that Jewish Federations of North America has raised.
Israel halted its rescue efforts on Monday, according to Haaretz.com. The Israeli medical team was expected to remain until Thursday, Jan. 21, the journal reported.
All Israelis who are residents of Haiti have now been contacted, although nine were unaccounted for in the days immediately following the earthquake, Kutner said.
In addition to the IDF and Israeli police and diplomats, ZAKA, an Israeli team of emergency volunteers was on the ground in Port-au-Prince this weekend assisting with rescue efforts, and with some success.
The ZAKA team assisted in the rescue of eight students trapped in the rubble of a collapsed eight-story university building this past weekend, a ZAKA spokeswoman in Israel reported.
ZAKA and other volunteers used equipment provided by the Mexican military in the rescue effort, which which concluded 38 hours after the building collapse
The ZAKA team was in Mexico when the earthquake hit, assisting in recovery efforts following a helicopter crash there. The Mexican air force flew the team to Haiti.
ZAKA, which stands for Zihuy Korbanot Ason (literally: “Disaster Victim Identification”), was set up in the 1990s essentially to collect body parts at the the sites of terrorist attacks for proper burial.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1000, Ext. 316.)