Facing devastating floods, Serbia and Bosnia recently asked the international community for disaster relief, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry went into action. According to Dan Oryan, Israeli Director of the Balkan States, “We consider Serbia a close friend of Israel, and in a time of trouble we do our utmost to assist. We received requests in the last few days and we sent supplies and are checking what else we can do.”
The Israeli humanitarian aid sent to both Serbia and Bosnia reportedly included 1.5 tons of medical supplies, blankets, food, and rain gear.
Serbian ambassador to Israel Misko Stanojevic expressed his gratitude. “We are very glad that Israel is among the first nations to address the tragedy because this event in Serbia is the first national catastrophe in more than 100 years that has happened to us.”
According to Stanojevic, the floods are of biblical proportion. Thousands of people have been evacuated. One town disappeared under water. The infrastructure for energy plants are also under water. “It is very difficult for the (rescue) units to approach them and save them, and the roads are disappearing under the massive amount of water covering the land.”
Serbia’s government is in touch with surrounding countries, especially Bosnia and Croatia. Stanojevic says there is still a need for technical support, as well as boats to help in emergency situations, tents, and even a field hospital if Israel would like to provide one. “We are facing the possibility of diseases spreading during the flood. We need more medicines for people with diabetes and high blood pressure, and baby’s formula. We need specialists in certain areas for emergencies -- helicopters, divers and their teams.”
Israel is also helping to bring relief to damaged areas in Bosnia. Reportedly, the town of Doboj in northeastern Bosnia experienced flood waters three to four meters high. The constant rain caused nearly 300 landslides in Bosnia, burying homes and cars, and making relief efforts difficult.
Yet, the most damage appears to be in Serbia. According to Stanojevic, in Serbia there is a confluence of the biggest rivers. All streams go towards Belgrade. All rivers go into the River Sava, which has caused flooding at historic record levels.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, are continuing to assess the situation in both countries to see whether the flood levels will subside or whether bad weather and another flood wave will cause more damage.
Israel has had great favor and an ability to work with foreign governments during emergency situations. Sometimes Israel will offer help to nations that have been hostile to the Jewish State.
For example, though Israel and Turkey have not yet renewed diplomatic ties, Israel recently offered Turkey assistance with search and rescue efforts at the coal mine disaster in Soma. Israel’s medical emergency response service, Magen David Adom, also offered Turkey’s Red Crescent team help in trying to free hundreds of miners who were trapped underground in the coal mine. Turkey declined, but the Israeli embassy in Ankara showed its solidarity with Turkey by cancelling an Israeli Independence Day Celebration and letting the Turks know Israel was mourning the loss of the hundreds of men who died in the Soma mine explosion.
This was Israel’s second effort at helping Turkey during a time of crisis. In August 1999, Israel was one of the first countries to send emergency aid to Turkish earthquake victims. Israeli Air Force Planes airlifted 250 Israelis experienced in search and rescue. Medical supplies and a field hospital followed. Containers carrying prefabricated dwellings and hundreds of tents were sent from Israel to Turkey, bringing relief to thousands of people who lost their homes in the earthquake. By air and sea, Israel sent more than 50 tons of supplies to Istanbul during that time.
Since March 2013, Israel has played a key role in rescuing and medically helping hundreds of critically wounded victims of Syria’s on-going civil war. Though Israel and Syria have no diplomatic relations, and are technically at war with each other since 1967, Israel continues to treat wounded Syrians.
Whenever there is a humanitarian crisis in the world, Israel offers to send teams of first responders to help bring relief.
In November 2013, Israel’s Defense Forces sent two Boeing 747’s to the Philippines with more than 200 Israeli doctors, nurses, and paramedics on-board. They arrived soon after super-typhoon Haiyan hit the island and killed thousands of Filipinos. Other Israeli teams provided search and rescue services during that disaster. An Israeli field hospital was equipped to treat up to 500 people at a time. The IDF brought over electricians and builders to restore infrastructure. Reportedly, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke of Israel’s “moral obligation” to help the Philippines in the midst of such a great humanitarian crisis. He spoke of the trusting relationship between both nations, and the pain Israeli citizens felt for the Filipino people during that time.
Israel also sent aid workers to the Philippines during typhoons that hit the nation in 2009, providing much needed medical relief.
In 2010, Israel assembled a state-of-the-art field hospital in Haiti to help earthquake victims in that country. A relief package, including teams from the Home Front Command rescue unit, Magen David Adom, and the Israeli Police helped during the devastating crisis. Years later, a doctor at Israel’s Tel Hashomer Chaim Sheba hospital was still providing prosthesis to Haitians who had lost limbs during the earthquake.
Israel has had the capability to help nations when catastrophe strikes. This is something worthy of consideration -- that the Jewish State is fulfilling its mandate to be a “light to the nations.” What other country on this earth has that biblical mandate and is accomplishing it by saving lives?
C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.
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