Israeli Military Being Celebrated For Work In Haiti, But What About The Suffering in Gaza?

JERUSALEM, Jan 22, 2010 (IPS) -- A week after the devastating Haiti earthquake, Israelis watched proudly as their TV channels showed the New York Fire Department rushing two young boys, extricated from the rubble of a building, to a field hospital set up by the Israeli army in Port-au-Prince.

On Tuesday, Israeli soldiers from the special Home Front Command emergency unit had themselves rescued two young Haitian girls. They too are being treated in the Israeli field hospital.

A news report on the United States-based cable network CNN has also highlighted the relative successes of the Israeli relief effort.

One U.S. doctor even said on camera, "I’m amazed, the Israelis are so self-contained here that they even have imaging equipment in place, enabling them to carry out full-scale emergency operations."

The field hospital, which was up and running two days after the Jan. 12 earthquake, will remain in Haiti for at least another month, says the Israeli army. A second military team flew out from Tel Aviv on Monday evening to strengthen the ongoing relief efforts.

The Israeli team in Haiti is composed partially of soldiers and officers on reserve duty and of others who are doing their three-year national service. Other medical teams from around the world have joined the Israeli soldiers. They include eight Colombian doctors and nurses, a ten-member British surgical team, and nine volunteer doctors from Los Angeles.

Israel's President Shimon Peres reflected the spirit of vaunted national pride when, commenting on the performance of the Israeli military teams, he re-termed the Israeli Defense Forces (the official term Israel gives to its military) as the "Israeli forces for saving mankind."

Steven E. Aschheim, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says, "Our operation in Haiti is absolutely admirable. However, beyond the congratulatory self back-slapping, we ought not to forget the deprivations we are inflicting on our next-door neighbors."

In the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz, political commentator Akiva Eldar writes caustically: "Give us an earthquake in Haiti, a tsunami in Thailand or a terror attack in Kenya, and the Israeli Defense Forces spokesman's office will triumph: A cargo plane can always be found to fly in military journalists to report on our fine young men from the Home Front Command."

"Everyone is truly doing a wonderful job: the rescuers searching for survivors; the physicians saving lives," Eldar goes on.

"But, the remarkable identification with the victims of the terrible tragedy in distant Haiti only underscores the indifference to the ongoing suffering of the people of Gaza. Only a little more than an hour's drive from the offices of Israel's major newspapers, 1.5 million people have been besieged for two-and-a-half years.

"Who cares that 80 percent of the men, women and children living in such proximity to us have fallen under the poverty line? How many Israelis know that half of all Gazans are dependent on charity, that Operation Cast Lead [the Israeli army codeword for its assault on Gaza a year ago] created hundreds of amputees or that raw sewage continues to flow from the streets into the sea?’’

Eldar concludes: "The disaster in Haiti is a natural one; the one in Gaza is the handiwork of man -- our handiwork."

Israeli politicians, even those of a liberal bent, have steered clear of drawing such a comparison as Eldar does.

Indeed, in previous instances, when Israeli columnists have tried to awaken their readers to the pain and suffering that the long occupation has inflicted on the Palestinians, self-flagellation by well-intentioned Israeli columnists may tragically only turn out to be another way of putting Gaza beyond the minds of most Israelis.

"After all, they’re our enemy, not victims," is the standard counter-argument of many Israelis in relating to the predicament of their Palestinian neighbors.

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