Almost as soon as the IDF embarked on its aid mission
, accusations began flying that the Israelis’ objectives were of a sinister rather than humanitarian nature. Some accused the country’s leaders of trying to divert attention away from their behaviour towards the Palestinians, others went as far as claiming that Israeli doctors were engaged in stealing the organs of dead Haitians
On the other side of the fence, diehard supporters of Israel trumpeted the relief efforts as definitive proof that Israel was a light unto the nations, some even claiming that Israel was acting on behalf of world Jewry, rather than just the Israeli people:
We believe that it is a Jewish duty to help the people of Haiti. As the representative of the Jewish people, the State of Israel is leading the relief effort… we are not only helping Haitians with their tragedy, but uniting the Jewish world and demonstrating the Jewish values of the State of Israel.
It is almost impossible for any news story connected to Israel to exist in a political vacuum, thanks to the nature of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and the global polarisation resulting from the hostilities. In the context of Israel’s assistance to Haiti, however, credit should be given where it’s due: Israeli rescue teams’ efforts have been second to none, and their staff have shown true humanity in a time when it is so desperately needed by the victims.
Israel’s response to the Haitian earthquake is only the latest in a long line of noble deeds when it comes to disasters around the world: 140 countries have received aid from Israel’s state-run Mashav humanitarian relief division, including Turkey, India and El Salvador after earthquakes brought devastation to their shores. Israel’s foreign affairs ministry borrows a Biblical quotation to describe Mashav’s work:
If there be among you a needy man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother” Deuteronomy 15:7
However, for all that Israel’s sterling work overseas deserves to be praised, it highlights the lack of compassion shown by the country’s leaders to those suffering on its own doorstep. Israel’s insistence on doing next to nothing to alleviate the suffering in Gaza while rushing to Haiti’s aid exposes just how far they are prepared to stray from the religious teachings to which they claim to adhere. Likewise, when Zionist movements such as Bnei Akiva trumpet the achievements of Israel’s relief teams as representative of the entire Jewish people, they inadvertently tar all Jews with the same brush when Israel’s frequent violations of international law are brought to light.
Israel should shoulder its responsibility to help countries such as Haiti along with all other states fortunate enough to have the manpower and resources to assist in such a mission. Every nation which has done its part to alleviate Haitians’ plight should be praised for their work, but neither they nor their supporters should be allowed to hide their other, less favourable actions behind the efforts they have made in Haiti.
Questions should be asked about why Israel – which has proved itself incredibly capable when it comes to responding to certain humanitarian crises – is so intransigent about assisting the Palestinians. If, as many claim, Israel’s leaders believe it to be in their long-term interests to slowly strangle Gaza’s economy and destroy its infrastructure as a means to topple Hamas, it is a reprehensible way to behave. It is a damning indictment of Israel that it is prepared only to come to the aid of those who fit certain political critieria, rather than that of every victim crying out for intervention.