Who sent the most volunteers and were among the first on the scene to assist in the rescue of the victims of the earthquake in Turkey?
Israel, of course.
Yifat Erlich reported in Israel Hayom that an Israel Defense Forces rescue team and hundreds of volunteers from other organizations were working feverishly to find survivors amidst the rubble.
“The conditions in their make-shift camps are not easy, and rescuers have no access to running water or electricity, and sleeping on the floor in the bitter cold,” Ehrlich related.
“The team — consisting of 500 people — has been working non-stop since Tuesday, racing against time and in the conditions of the winter cold. No one stopped to eat or sleep, despite the fact that they had been at it for over 48 hours. By early Wednesday morning, they had already managed to rescue several people, including a 2-year-old child and a 23-year-old woman.”
At least 19 people have been rescued by Israelis in what the IDF is calling Operation Olive Branches.
Israel is doing this in a country that only recently restored diplomatic relations. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has spent the last several years attacking Israel and, even today, after reconciling with Jerusalem, allows Hamas officials in Istanbul to plan operations. Rejecting Israel’s request that they be expelled, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in October, “We didn’t satisfy any request on Hamas, because we don’t perceive Hamas as a terror group.”
Still, Israel sent rescuers.
Meanwhile, across the border in Syria, thousands of victims of the quake were dying due to a lack of assistance. Israel offered to send its finest to help there too but President Bashar Assad would rather see his people die than accept help from Israel.
The situation is not funny but nevertheless reminds me of an apropos joke:
The captain of a Syrian airliner sends out a distress message: “Mayday, mayday, mayday, Syrian 174, flame out engine one, we want to land at any airport in the Mid-East that’s not in Israel.”
A short while later he announces, “Mayday, Syrian 174, flame out engines one and two, requesting permission to land at any airport in the Mid-East OTHER than in Israel.”
A while later the captain announces, “Mayday, Syrian 174, we are desperate. We have lost two engines and are losing the third. We need to land at any airport in the Mid-East OTHER than in Israel.”
Still no answer.
Finally, the captain calls, “Help! This is Syrian Airlines 174, we have only one engine left and it is rapidly failing. Unless we can land, we are going to crash. We need permission to land at ANY airport, INCLUDING in Israel.”
A voice is heard in the Syrian airline cockpit: “Shalom Syrian 174, Tel Aviv Approach. Radar contact over the Mediterranean, eight-five west of Tel Aviv. We stand ready to assist.”
“God bless you,” says the Syrian pilot. “What should we do?”
“Repeat after me: Yitgadal, v’yitkadash …”
Not even a devastating earthquake was enough for Assad to accept help from Israel.
Still, Israel does what it can. Back in 2016, the IDF Northern Command established the headquarters of Operation Good Neighbor near the border with Israel. A field hospital was set up to provide humanitarian assistance and medical aid to victims of the civil war. More than 10,000 Syrian civilians were treated, and fuel, food and clothing were provided to Israel’s “enemies.”
Similarly, the IDF set up a field hospital in Turkey to treat earthquake victims, including Syrian refugees. The Times of Israel reported that a 4-year-old Syrian refugee whose parents were killed in the quake was among those treated at the makeshift hospital.
“I found myself taking out halva from our combat rations and giving it to him, and he loved it,” said Lt. Col. Aziz Ibrahim, a nurse and a commander in the IDF Medical Corps. Ibrahim told the paper the boy’s uncle said, “You Israelis treat us better than our people.”
Meanwhile, have you heard from supporters of the Palestinians expressing any concern for Palestinians who might have been injured in the quake? They’re too busy demonizing Israel to organize help for the people they care oh so much about only if Israel can be blamed for their plight. They undoubtedly see Israel’s relief activities as “rescue washing;” that is, just another cynical effort to distract attention from the persecution of Palestinians.
At a time when Israel is being assailed on multiple fronts for its politics, it is worth reminding the world that it is a country that values life above all else and is prepared to help even its most entrenched enemies, in the tradition of the Talmudic teaching that whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the whole world.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations.