After the disaster in Nepal, in which Captain Tamar Ariel was killed, an Israeli aid mission flew abroad to provide rapid response aid in the field. Three months later, Lieutenant Colonel Idit Oz shares her experience
Naomi Zoreff | Translation: Eden Sharon
When a disaster occurs somewhere around the world, especially when Israelis are involved, an Israeli aid mission is rapidly deployed to the destination. Such a situation took place three months ago, when a group of hikers in the Himalayan Mountains were caught in an avalanche. Among the victims was IAF weapon systems operator and navigator, Captain Tamar Ariel. After the disaster, many Israeli professionals were sent to assist in the field, including Lieutenant Colonel Idit Oz, Head of IAF Psychology Branch, Dr. Avi Yitzhak, a surgeon, and Dr. Luchi La’or, Head of IDF Operational Medicine Branch. “The Israeli army, and us, as part of it, have the experience and ability to execute missions in a short period of time, and for that reason we were chosen for this mission”, explains Lieutenant Colonel Idit. “We are professionals. Many people say we helped them a lot, and I’m very glad we helped them deal with the trauma”.
“Early intervention is very helpful in cases of trauma”, says Oz. “There is the opportunity to prevent post-traumatic disorders”. That is why an hour and a half after receiving the call asking her to join the delegation, Lieutenant Colonel Idit found herself in the airport. “The delegation had a number of goals”, she states. “Firstly, medically assisting the wounded who suffered from frostbites, for which we carried many boxes of medical equipment. Another goal was of course dealing with the mental trauma the survivors had endured”.
It should be noted that even though the delegation was Israeli, its members provided aid to anyone who needed it, regardless of their nationality. “We were summoned for a briefing in the Israeli embassy immediately after landing”, recalls Lieutenant Colonel Idit. “During the ride, we established a work plan. It was unclear where we were heading and we understood that there is a lot of confusion and chaos”.
After considering the options, it was decided that the delegation would travel to the local “Bet-Chabad” branch and operate from there. Lieutenant Colonel Idit recalls: “We saw that this are had a high concentration of Israeli’s. From that moment on, we started operating through every available media: we broadcast our offer of help throughout the social networks and hung flyers inviting people to a group session the next day”. That same evening, Lieutenant Colonel Idit met with two hikers who were finding it difficult to deal with the horrible event. “My encounter with the two hikers clarified the events of the disaster for me. The hikers had to deal with extreme conditions that had been completely unexpected. They were just young people who went to have some fun”.
“During extreme situations, your instincts choose for you”
In extreme conditions such as this, the survival instinct takes control. “As humans, we feel we have control over our choices, but in fact people do not choose, it is the instinct that chooses for them”, explains Lieutenant Colonel Idit. “During the group session, it was important for us to hear the difficult experiences the hikers went through and “normalize” their different reactions – explaining that every reaction, even if it seems weird and abnormal, is normal when dealing with such an extreme situation”.
During the group session with the hikers, the name of Captain Tamar Ariel, the IAF weapon system operator who died in the disaster, was brought up time and time again. “Many said that she was a meaningful figure for then”, says Lieutenant Colonel Idit. “Her dominant personality and the big impact she and the other Israeli victims left in the hearts of the survivors was a main topic of discussion”. The many memories from Captain Tamar proved that she inspired a sense of security and hope among many and always looked after those who surrounded her.