The shutting down of Israel’s military hospital in Port-au-Prince is similar to the rare act of closing down an Israeli embassy abroad. Why couldn’t we keep the hospital in Haiti’s capital for a year at least and shift it to a well-protected structure ahead of hurricane season, reinforcing it as a model of long-term Israeli and Jewish humanitarian activity?
The hospital and the future activity that could have been managed in and around it are worth many months of intense diplomatic work at any world capital. I would not be giving up such a resource so quickly, just like I would not be giving up the important opportunity to practically launch a Jewish and Israeli “peace corps,” which is the dream of many people in Israel and abroad.
The terrible disaster experienced by Haiti is not behind us yet; much work is still ahead for Haitians. After the body count and burial are completed, as well as immediate medical operations, the devastated island will embark on rebuilding and rehabilitation operations.
While the politics of mass disasters feature forces that are greater and stronger than us, Israel possesses a modest resource that is of prominent quality: A field hospital coupled with some of the best medical and nursing staff in the world.
Those who channeled Israel’s expert activity to the international media in a highly professional manner deserve much praise. The IDF may have been able to shift responsibility for running the hospital to a civilian organization such as Hadassah, the Maccabi HMO, or the Tel Hashomer hospital, so that they would promote a national interest and secure three objectives:
First, maintaining Israel’s good name among the family of strong nations, which do not arrive when disaster strikes and leave right after making headlines. Rather, we should have been presenting plans for long-term medical treatment and rehabilitation for the devastated population. The Israeli hospital could have continued to carry the banner of medical advancement, while focusing on providing services in three specific areas: Orthopedics, infectious disease and AIDS, and obstetrics and gynecology
Secondly, creating strong ties with UN organizations in order to take a prominent part in their Haiti operations. From now on, the UN will be an important sponsor of rebuilding and rehabilitation activities. Our hospital could have been an important element in integrating Israelis into UN programs; this would have certainly improved our image in the organization and boosted the number of Israelis encountered by UN staff at their finest hour, and not through Goldstone.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the establishment of the hospital as a focal point of ongoing humanitarian assistance in Haiti would have enabled us, for the first time, to realize the idea raised by key Jewish figures in Israel and abroad: The establishment of a Jewish and Israeli “peace corps.” Jewish doctors, nurses, and volunteer teams from across the world could have serves as rotating volunteers at the hospital, under Israeli management.
While performing volunteer work for the benefit of Haiti residents, these volunteers would be achieving “Tikkun Olam” while also developing meaningful ties amongst themselves, all under Israel’s flag. Similarly to Taglit, the shared experience of young people and Jewish professionals volunteering in the closest Israeli hospital to the US could have done much good: To quake survivors in Haiti, to Israel’s good name, to the effort to combat anti-Semitism, and to the volunteers themselves.
A good ambassador should not be replaced so quickly, and certainly should not be sent back home. Yet now we shall see the dozens of Israeli aid organizations working separately in Haiti, instead of uniting around a goodwill Israeli and Jewish ambassador, which is being sent back to Israel.
Yinon Shenkar holds a PhD in public health and advises the United Nations