The Israeli hasbara machine is in full gear this week — grinding as hard as I've ever seen it — to show the world the vast efforts this small Jewish nation is making to help a hurricane-ravaged Philippines back on its feet.
And there is certainly no lack of efforts to boast on. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), one of the world's most powerful militaries — equally strong in medical/trauma relief — just loaded about 150 soldiers and 100 tons of aid onto a 6,000-mile El Al Airlines flight to Manila. The chosen soldiers include doctors, nurses, paramedics, X-ray and laboratory specialists, search-and-rescue experts and more, "all specialists in their fields," Tweeted Peter Lerner, head of the IDF's foreign press detail.
They're not the first IDF personnel to arrive. On Monday morning, according to an IDF live blog on the mission, "a lead IDF delegation of experts in the fields of search, rescue and medicine" arrived at the site of disaster, to "perform a thorough situation assessment, including an infrastructure evaluation, that will determine the best rapid response the IDF can provide."
Apparently, that assessment called for the establishment of an IDF field hospital, like the ones the Israeli army has set up in Haiti and along the Israeli-Syrian border. Below, the IDF describes the field hospital slated for the typhoon-stricken city of
Tacloban Bogo City:
An advanced multi-department medical facility, equipped with approximately 100 tons of humanitarian and medical supplies from Israel, will be rapidly established in the city of Tacloban to provide medical care for disaster casualties. The facility will be constructed of a children’s department, a women’s department, an ambulatory care department, and a general admission department, operated by IDF doctors, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, mental health professionals, x-ray technician, and lab workers.
To keep everyone up to speed, the IDF, famous for its social-media presence, even created a whole new Twitter account: @IDFrescue. The account is spewing fascinating, if dramatic, updates on the mission multiple times per hour. And it's Tweeting constant photos of the Israeli aid effort, including this one of soldiers planning the field hospital on the floor of Ben Gurion airport (above) and one of the hospital itself, all deconstructed and packed up (below):
Although initial death-toll estimates of 10,000 for Typhoon Haiyan have been pushed back down to about 2,000, the devastation left by the typhoon cannot be over-emphasized. [Update, November 16: The hurricane's fatality count is back up to almost 4,000.] Photos in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the BBC and elsewhere show a peaceful, green beachside village reduced to grime and splinters. And those who did survive what is being called possibly the strongest storm in history have a long, painful recovery ahead.
But the IDF is confident it has the resources and experience to help. "Our mission is challenging but we have the best of the best," said the head of IDF Home Front Command.
In addition, according to Israeli news station Reshet Bet, three non-military Israelis are already working in Tacloban with the French organization Rescuers Without Borders.
IsraAID, a non-governmental Israeli organization that provides aid to foreign countries, was quick to respond as well. When I talked to IsraAID Director Shahar Zahavi on Monday, he said IsraAID had sent over seven medical professionals the night before, and planned to send additional trauma experts and child-protection specialists in the coming days. "Israelis do have the expertise," he said, "especially because of ongoing tragic events we have here in Israel." The organization has set up a donation page especially for its typhoon recovery efforts in the Philippines. (Word on the street is that at least one other Israeli aid org, one more shy to press than IsraAID, has also dispatched aid workers to the Philippines.)
Update: Here are all the ways you can help. And here's some aerial footage of the devastation in Tacloban, as shot by the IDF.