An unusual cooperation amidst Japanese catastrophe: An Israeli team of 12 ZAKA (Disaster Victim Identification) volunteers sent to Japan to help out with rescue efforts worked alongside an unlikely team on Sunday – the official Iranian delegation.
This strange joint effort took place in the city of Kamaishi, which was hit badly by the quake and tsunami. The ZAKA team arrived to assist locals rescue and identify bodies buried in the wreckage and to take note of the Japanese disaster incase a similar one was to happen in Israel.
"The Japanese welcomed us very nicely. They hug us wherever we go and thank us for Israeli aid," said ZAKA Chairman and delegation head Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.
In Kamaishi, ZAKA volunteers were able to rescue seven bodies belonging to one family that was buried under the rubble. They also assisted in the identification of the dead. The Israeli team taught the locals to spot crows and explained that, from their experience, dead bodies can be found where crows hover.
"They took us to a hangar containing about 100 unidentified bodies and requested that we help them. We've gained a lot of experience identifying bodies after the tsunami in Thailand, and here the bodies' condition was similar so we were able to help out," Meshi-Zahav explained.
ZAKA volunteers with Iranian delegation member (Photo: ZAKA spokesperson's office)
Side by side
The Teheran rescue team also arrived in the city. "We shook hands and became friends. At one point they set up a stand and wanted to hand out food and medicine to the locals. We joined in and there we stood, side by side, handing out food and medicine. They removed the Iranian flag and removed our Israeli flag and we just stood there together. It was very odd," he added.
However, when the Iranians offered the Israeli crew some hot tea, the ZAKA team declined politely due to kashrut reasons. Meshi-Zahav joked and said, "It could have been beautiful if the Iranians tried to poison us in Japan."
In order to avoid a scene the Israelis agreed to drink orange juice from a closed can and later the two delegations took their picture together.
The Iranians told the ZAKA volunteers: "You know we are cousins. The wars and conflicts are between the leaders, but between the people there should be peace. We can't forget we were close once."
Meshi-Zahav admitted: "We were suspicious of them. We hesitated a bit because they hugged us too much."
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