Tens of thousands of people died in the earthquake
that hit Haiti, one of the poorest, most violent, most corrupt, and least governable states in the world. The exact number of casualties will never be known. Following the initial shock, an immense international aid campaign has been organized to help this ill-fated and AIDS-ridden state, which lacks basic infrastructure. The UN estimates the aid’s scope at $550 million, most of it from the nearby United States; a fortune in Haitian terms.
too joined this drive. Two airplanes carrying about 220 volunteers, including soldiers, police officers, paramedics, doctors, and search and rescue experts headed to Haiti on two missions: Rescuing survivors and establishing a field hospital. Yet the first mission is almost impossible, as the time that has elapsed greatly diminishes the chances of finding survivors under the rubble.
As to the establishment of a field hospital, this is a worthy mission yet not a unique one. The Americans, French, Canadians, Argentineans, Brazilians, Brits, and human right groups have already started to establish mobile clinics and improvised hospitals. It’s crowded, chaotic, and unsafe out there. Israel’s marginal contribution to the global aid effort will be minor. The great distance, the lack of familiarity with the local customs and language, and the difficulty in integrating into other states’ teams will objectively limit the Israeli mission’s work, at least in the critical starting phase.
American television is known for the phenomenon of “disaster correspondent” – a journalist sent to any location worldwide that is hit by a disaster. Yet it appears that the State of Israel is following this conditioned reflex too: Whenever there’s a disaster somewhere around the globe, we’re there, with the IDF’s Home Front Command and our teams.
Yet this presence is not always vital, necessary, or beneficial. In a year, Haiti will need Israeli agricultural training much more than it needs another field hospital or more rescuers now, at the height of the chaos.
Indeed, an Israeli field hospital in Haiti will be able to serve hundreds of local quake victims. Yet Israel’s resources are not unlimited. Magen David Adom is already seeking donations in the US in order to fund its operations in Haiti. Hence, a truly powerful reason is required for stretching our resources all the way to Haiti, when many children in Gaza, a driving distance from central Israel, require urgent hospitalization. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate and just to provide them with an Israeli field hospital? In Haiti, one of the local gangs may take apart the Israeli hospital and sell the equipment on the black market. In Gaza it will be safeguarded, used, and possibly bring down the level of hostility a little.
Israel does not bear much responsibility for Haiti, with the exception of the general responsibility every person bears for others. Yet it does bear indirect responsibility for Gaza.
The Gaza Strip is ruled by a murderous terror organization, yet dozens of innocent children were killed there during Operation Cast Lead. Without taking anything away from the wonderful dedication and volunteer spirit shown by Israeli teams in Haiti, they should not be surprised to be challenged by the provocative question: Have you been to Gaza already?
It’s hard to get rid of the feeling that the desire to “make an impression” played a key role in the Israeli government’s decision to dispatch hundreds of aid workers to Haiti. The impression which Israel’s assistance will make on the conscience of the world (it won’t be impressed much,) the impression to be made on Israel’s citizens by the quick deployment of the army to a remote site (as a display of our ability to face any trouble,) and of course the impression to be conveyed by Israeli journalists in Haiti. After all, the miserable Haiti is in our hands now, isn’t it?