Israel brings hope and healing to Haiti
By Rabbi Dow Marmur
JERUSALEM–Israel’s precarious relations with its neighbours have forced it to be always prepared for war. Having had to fight several of them, its army has gained great experience in dealing with and preparing for emergencies. That’s why Israel has been able to respond so swiftly, and apparently so efficiently, to the Haiti disaster.
Ahead of most other countries, since Saturday there has been a fully operational Israeli field hospital situated in a soccer field on the outskirts of devastated Port-au-Prince. Over 200 employees of the Israel Defense Forces, military and civilian, are now at work there. Journalists on the scene report impressive results. Many more rescuers sponsored by the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross (Magen David Adom) as well as by other Israeli aid agencies are on their way. They too will make use of the special skills acquired because of their country’s war experience and defense needs.
Israelis at home are justifiably proud. From its very inception Israel has wanted to be, in the words of Scripture, “a light unto the nations.” Even when its economy was much more precarious than it is today, and though prevented from reaching out to its Arab neighbours, Israel had helped many African countries to develop their agriculture and industry. Political expediency has stopped some of the early beneficiaries to continue overt contacts with the Jewish state, but in some cases clandestine operations are said to be in place to this very day.
Spokespersons for Israel will tell you that their real hope is to be able to extend similar help to surrounding Muslim countries and the Palestinian Authority, which many would like to see becoming an independent state, living side by side with Israel in peace and security (as the current jargon has it). Some such help is already being provided.
Cynics will always choose to see these offers as Israel’s attempt to make a good impression in the world and ingratiating itself with the recipients. Israel’s desire to turn its “swords into ploughshares” (to use another image coined by the Biblical Prophets), goes very much deeper than engaging in public relations. It’s part and parcel of the value system of the Jewish religion. And even those who strive for a secular state in which religion is confined to the private realm want it to be a state based on Jewish moral values such as peace and prosperity for all peoples, not least the hapless Haitians.
The emphasis on healing and saving lives is central to Judaism. The fact that medicine has been a “Jewish” profession for much of history isn’t a coincidence and cannot be explained only in terms of sociology. Though Israelis are no less shocked and upset by what has befallen Haiti than citizens of other countries, most are also relieved that their government and their army are able to be of tangible help to the victims. The fact that Israel can use its defense measures in the service of other countries is gratifying to all, irrespective of their opinions about internal politics.
Unfortunately, nothing of this is likely to change the stance of Israel’s many enemies abroad. So-called human rights activists around the world will continue to clamor for the indictment of Israeli public figures branding them as war criminals. But perhaps people not burdened by ideological prejudices may wish to bear in mind that sometimes even the military can become the carrier of hope and healing. That’s definitely how Israelis view their country’s current mission in Haiti.
Rabbi Marmur is the spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He now divides his time between Canada and Israel.