Thursday, April 9, 2009

Unfortunate Israeli Expertise

Israeli news agencies are dedicating considerable coverage to the recent earthquake in Italy in which around 280 people were killed and many more left homeless or injured.

Israelis are also interested in the natural disaster because one of their own, a 23 year old medical student Hussein Hamada from the northern Israeli town of Kabul was killed when his dormitory collapsed during the earthquake.

Another reason for interest is that Israel has offered to send search and rescue teams to Italy to help with whatever work needs to be done. Italy has accepted Israeli help which, if it is not already on the ground, will be dispatched shortly.

In trying to determine exactly who from Israel will go to Italy to support recovery and disaster assistance efforts it was interesting to note that Israel actually has two, highly trained search and rescue agencies. The first, is linked to the military and serves under the "home guard" command. The website linked to above is simple, but clicking around on the links brings up some interesting information about the capabilities of this unit and the types of work they have done to date.

The second agency is actually civilian and volunteer search and rescue team that has operated not only domestically in Israel, but around the world, one would imagine in conjunction with or as a supplement to the military team. From the short description of this group provided and the accolades they have received, this agency, known as F.I.R.S.T. appears to be a uniquely qualified highly trained organization. Perhaps most interesting about F.I.R.S.T. is that it is part of a larger network called IsraAID, an Israeli humanitarian aid group that seems, for a country with modest resources, to do important work is some far-flung locations.

In the case of both the military and civilian search and rescue teams from Israel, both were born out of conflict and a need for the ability to quickly extract people from buildings destroyed in bomb blasts and they like. They also both stand out as having assisted in disasters all over the world and seem to show little regard for politics when offering their assistance. For example, this older article mentions how Israeli help was turned down by Iran after the devastating earthquake in the city of Bam.

It's unclear whether Israeli civilians or only military will be participating in the Israeli assistance to Italy. In either case, it is noteworthy that a small country with relatively limited resources somehow manages to offer its assistance to other, even wealthier countries and to note how an expertise developed from conflict pays dividends in the humanitarian and diplomatic realms.


Blackstar said...

I'm amused at your comment about Israel being a country of modest means.
I have to disagree, its GDP per capita is about 30,000 USD, which is not very far from that of Canada (which is in the high 30's).
Also, Israel is relatively known for being a hi-tech economy with a big R&D sector.
Given this reality, I find you're very easily dispensing what seems to be a compliment, when it should be normal for a scientifically sophisticated country to offer its expertise in a humanitarian disaster like this. Particularly when the beneficiary isn't even an enemy state, or located at the other end of the planet. Rome-Tel Av is a mere 3 hours by plane.

I'm not saying the gesture shouldn't be appreciated. On the contrary. But I think you're turning it into a more selfless gesture than it really is.
Also a question: Hussein Hamada, that's an Israel Arab isn't it?

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

Thank you for your comment Blackstar and I'm glad you're amused!

You are quite right that Israel's per capita GDP stands somewhere around $28K USD almost exactly $10K USD less than Canada. On the other hand, if we continue with this comparison, just as an example of the difference in the demands on each country, Israel dedicates over 7% of it's annual budget to defense while Canada spends barely over 1%.

So, perhaps I didn't phrase my idea properly. What I mean is that given the situation in which Israel finds itself and that the resources it does have are dedicated to its many internal problems, to its defense, etc. it is significant that a country with such a heavy security burden would offer assistance to others.

As for the late Mr. Hamda, I would guess, given his name and the region he's from, that he is an Israeli Arab, but all the Israeli media I've seen refers to him as an Israeli citizen. But yeah, I think you're right.