JERUSALEM—Two Israeli planes bearing 250 rescue workers took off for Nepal Sunday as Israel moved quickly into its traditional role as an early responder to natural disasters around the world.
The Israeli delegation includes medical personnel who will set up a field hospital in Katmandu as well as search-and-rescue teams, consisting mostly of military personnel from Israel’s Home Front Command, trained in rescuing people trapped by collapsed structures. Aiding them will be rescue dogs.
Israel has decades of experience in such operations, from South America to Japan, Turkey and pre-revolutionary Iran. Apart from humanitarian considerations, these efforts permit Israel, whose role on the world stage is often clouded for political reasons, to offer a different image. "You are being sent on an important mission," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the delegation Sunday. "This is the real face of Israel."
Israel also has practical reasons for rushing rescue teams to the remote Himalayan state. The country has long been popular with young Israelis, particularly those who have recently completed obligatory military service, to trek in the mountain foothills. Some 200 Israeli trekkers, many in isolated regions, have not been heard from since the quake on Saturday. Israeli officials say the reason in most, if not all, cases is the breakdown in the communication infrastructure in Nepal caused by the quake. Among the equipment the Israeli planes are carrying are communication devices that can operate via satellites.
Nepal has also become popular with gay Israeli couples and couples with fertility problems who seek to have children via surrogate mothers. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, 25 such newborn infants with their parents are in Katmandu awaiting rescue. The babies are usually carried to term by Indian surrogates who cross into Nepal to give birth. The babies and more than 100 other Israelis have found shelter in tents set up on the grounds of the Israeli embassy and of the Orthodox Habad center. A plane departed Israel early Sunday to pick up the newborn infants and their parents.
On Saturday, within hours of the earthquake, the Israel Defense Forces dispatched seven search-and-rescue experts to Katmandu to coordinate the efforts of the Israeli delegation with local authorities.
One of Israel’s first foreign rescue efforts was in pre-Islamic-revolution Iran in 1962 when a quake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale killed 12,000 persons and devastated large areas. Thanks to Israel’s experience in creating a national infrastructure following its establishment 14 years earlier, the Muslim country was persuaded to give it a leading role in replanning and rebuilding the Qazvin region, twice the size of Israel itself. The Israeli experts developed new water systems, created an infrastructure for modern agriculture and constructed model villages with homes built of precast concrete units resembling the homes and layout of Israel’s villages built for new immigrants. They built two towns on the Persian Gulf for the Iranian navy. Some Israeli experts remained in Iran for more than a year.
Another Muslim country that accepted Israeli help after a quake, not without initial opposition from Islamic parties, was Turkey in 1999. Israel sent 350 search-and-rescue operatives and brought out 12 survivors the first day. After 96-hours of digging they brought out a nine-year-old girl who, with her mother, were the only survivors of their family. The field hospital set up by the Israelis treated 1,200 people, performed 40 operations, and delivered 15 babies.
Following the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2010, Israel sent more than 100 tons of supplies, from generators to medical equipment, to Indonesia, the largest Moslem country in the world, one which has no relations with Israel
When Japan was struck by a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown, Israelis set up and operated a field hospital in the quake-ravaged area.
One of its best-received missions was in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, in which some 200,000 persons died. Some journalists termed the Israeli field hospital the most effective of the foreign aid efforts. Staffed by 250 personnel, including 40 doctors and 20 nurses, the hospital performed 140 life-saving operations. A dozen Israeli trauma experts trained local teachers and medics to become trauma counselors.
Published under: Israel