IDF Humanitarian Aid Delegation to Colombia Reflects on Mission

Ilan Segal

The IDF (Zahal)’s aid delegation to Colombia, its mission to bring much-needed supplies to the country suffering from heavy rains, was the first massive, foreign aid at that stage of the disaster

Date: 16/01/2011, 11:59 AM     Author: Gili Malinsky

“I think the most memorable part of the mission was being received in Colombia,” said Lt. Col. Ilan Segal, deputy commander of the IDF (Zahal)’s aid delegation to Colombia, which set out on Sunday (Dec. 12) to bring much-needed supplies to the country.

“[The Defense Minister of Colombia] said there was great symbolism in our arrival. He said after the Great Flood, a white dove brought Noah the message that the worst was behind him. Similarly, our white El Al plane brought the message that the worst was behind Colombia.”

For weeks, Colombia had been experiencing one of it’s worst rains in over 40 years, with heavy flooding and mudslides causing more than 200 deaths and 3,000 people to be left homeless.

In a conversation between the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, on Thursday (Dec. 9), the President turned to Israel for help, asking to receive humanitarian aid in the form of supplies for the disaster’s thousands of victims. This ranged from mattresses and blankets to food like sugar and legumes to antibiotics for skin infections.

Preparations for the Mission

The Israel Defense Ministry accepted the request, turning to the IDF (Zahal)’s Home Front Command for assistance and immediately beginning to assemble the supplies and delegation. The Home Front Command, and especially the National Search and Rescue Unit, are both equipped and able to prepare for such missions within a matter of hours.

“A quick response is incredibly crucial because you only have an allotted window of opportunity to help people out,” said Lt. Col. Segal. “The faster you can prepare, the more likely you can help. People have beepers and within the second we get the command we have six hours to be completely prepared to leave.”

On Friday morning, supplies began to be assembled and by Sunday morning, when the delegation set off on its 20-hour flight to Colombia, it carried approximately 55 tons of equipment with supplies being added until the last minute. These included 20 tons of dry food, five thousand medical kits, two thousand blankets, one thousand ponchos, one thousand mattresses and one hundred tents.
At the time, it was estimated that as many as 50 houses were buried in the mudslide and as many as 40 people trapped inside.

“The help was going to reach the people who lost everything”

As their reception ceremony proved, the delegation, the most massive aid by a foreign country at that stage, shed new light on Israel as the region was known for constant news about conflict.
And there was much pride that help was coming from the Holy Land. It was proof of a strong friendship between the countries.

“One thing people kept saying was that the help was going to reach the people who lost everything – food, shelter,” said Lt. Col. Segal. “It’s very substantial aid because those people didn’t even have a place to sleep.”

The Defense Ministry of Colombia distributed the supplies immediately and, their mission complete, the delegation returned home.

“We always tell foreign countries,” said Brig. Gen (res.) Shalom Ben-Arye, commander of the aid delegation and the National Search and Rescue Unit. “The issue of humanitarian aid is one of our core ethics. Only the army can prepare and put together such missions so quickly and we help because we can.”