Beyond protecting Israel’s citizens, our soldiers embrace another role: serving a source of relief for people #IDF (Zahal)WithoutBorders. From Japan to Haiti, from Nepal to the Philippines, our soldiers have worked miracles and saved lives.
Every year on August 19, the world pauses to remember the victims of natural disasters, epidemics and other humanitarian crises. We in the IDF (Zahal) join the victims’ families in their grief and remember that even in the face of impossible ruin and loss, there are always glimmers of hope. Today, on World Humanitarian Day, we look back on four of the most incredible moments from the IDF (Zahal)’s humanitarian missions.
1. Delivering the First Baby Boy in the IDF (Zahal)’s Field Hospital in Nepal
On April 27, 2015, an 80-member Israeli humanitarian aid mission set flight for Nepal. Two days earlier, a magnitude-7.8 earthquake had struck the capital city of Kathmandu, wreaking unprecedented havoc in the city and its environs.
In the following two weeks, the IDF (Zahal) mission deployed near Kathmandu, searched and evacuated survivors from the rubble of collapsed buildings and set up a field hospital, providing medical services to the local population. The field hospital treated 1,600 patients, operated 85 surgeries and delivered 8 babies.
The first baby boy delivered in the IDF (Zahal) Field Hospital in Nepal was welcomed to the world on April 29, proving that joy can be found even in moments of despair and suffering. “A very cute baby boy, healthy, and weighing 2.1 kg was born,” enthused Maj. (res.) Michal Peres, the midwife who delivered the baby.
2. Returning Children to School in the Philippines
On November 7, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. Considered one of the strongest tropical storms in recent history, Typhoon Haiyan took many lives, led to thousands of casualties and missing people, and harmed water and electricity infrastructures.
Within hours, our mission to the Philippines parted, and thus the Home Front Command set out on Operation Islands of Hope. The mission consisted of 147 soldiers, including medics and logistics personnel as well as Search and Rescue forces.
Due to the destruction, no one expected the students in Bogo City to begin their school year on time. However, IDF (Zahal) forces in the area decided to work around the clock and repair four schools, ensuring that 3000 students could start their school year as usual.
In addition, the Israeli delegation operated workshops in which 120 teachers and school principals were taught how to cope and recover from disastrous situations. This enabled tens of thousands of students to return to routine as smoothly as possible.
3. Walking Again: Bringing an Elderly Woman Back on Her Feet in Japan
On March 11, 2011, the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s history hit. It claimed 15,891 lives, injured 6,152 people and created untold damage.
On March 26, 2011, an IDF (Zahal) humanitarian mission departed for the Miyagi district in Japan. The mission consisted of over 50 soldiers and officers and included population management experts, Japanese translators and doctors. The teams assisted in rehabilitating Japan from the lethal earthquake and tsunami.
When Dr. Nechamia Bloomberg, an orthopedist in the IDF (Zahal) specialist clinic in Minamisanriku, Japan started to treat 78-year-old Toshiko Yamauchi, he did not expect to go through one of the most harrowing moments of his work. Mrs. Yamauchi arrived at the clinic unable to walk but after dedicated medical treatment, the unbelievable turned into reality- she was given back her mobility and started walking.
4. Mission to Haiti: Rescuing a Man Trapped Under Rubble for 10 Days
In January 2010, a magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, claiming the lives of 100,000 to 160,000 people. The government of Haiti estimated that 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings had collapsed or were severely damaged.
Israel joined the global effort in assisting Haiti’s earthquake victims, treating more than 1,110 patients, completing 319 successful surgeries and delivering 16 babies. The humanitarian mission consisted of 220 people and included a field hospital and a rescue unit.
A 22-year-old Haitian man was found trapped under the ruins of a three-story building in the capital, Port-au-Prince, after a full, unimaginable 10 days of agony. Initially, a team of American and French doctors tried to save the trapped man, but their attempts failed.
Nearly hopeless, the medical teams and local residents called upon Israel’s Search and Rescue team, who then arrived at the scene and evacuated the man within thirty minutes. “They were able to release him whole and healthy from a 3-meter long tunnel,” recalls Maj. Zohar Moshe, a member of the rescue team.
The man was then transferred to the IDF (Zahal) Field Hospital in stable condition and received further medical treatment.