Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

December 30, 2004

Playing politics with the tsunami

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:10 pm

From the time of the earthquake, it took less than an hour for the wave to hit Thailand, two hours to reach Sri Lanka, six hours to reach Somalia … and two days to hit Israel.

Israel? No, the wave didn’t actually hit Israel, but the politics of it did. It seems that within hours of the disaster, Israel put together a team of 150 medical and relief personnel to send to Sri Lanka to treat the injured. On Dec. 28, the Washington Times reported:

Israel is flying three aircraft with doctors, nurses and medical supplies to Sri Lanka, which suffered thousands of fatalities from a weekend earthquake.

The army spokesman said the delegation comprises 150 rescue and medical personnel — specialist doctors, nurses and paramedics.

It plans to assemble a medical facility comprising of emergency, internal medicine and pediatric departments as well as a laboratory and X-ray facilities.

According to Al-Bawaba, an Arab news organization based on Amman, Jordan, Sri Lanka rejected the offer of the medical team, but is willing to accept a planeload of tents, blankets, nylon sheeting, and water containers contributed by the Israeli Army. At first glance, this sounds like a case of “Keep the dirty Jews out of our country — but sure, we’ll take the supplies,” but it may be more complicated than that. After all, they did accept an earlier, smaller team of civilian doctors from Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and they did allow Israel military personnel to fly in the supplies. And according to Al-Jazeera, Sri Lanka claims they have enough doctors, and only need the supplies. New Kerala quotes Sri Lankan Ambassador Tissa Wijeratne as saying, “We have friendly ties with Israel and this is a measure being adopted vis-a-vis everyone as we are unable to provide the large number of rescue officials, already operating in Sri Lanka, with necessary facilities.” (Needless to say, the Al-Jazeera and Al-Bawaba stories do not include the first part of that quotation.) However, Sri Lanka did accept a small team of doctors from Cyprus. Meanwhile, Israel has sent medical and search-and-rescue teams and relief workers to India and Thailand.

UPDATE: The quote below has been retracted by the Catholic World News — it was apparently based on a mistranslation . See above for details.

But then it gets jucier: apparently, not everyone believes that Sri Lanka rejected Israel’s help; some think it was the other way around. The Jerusalem Post and the Catholic World News are reporting that the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. CWN has removed the story from its website already, but it said in part:

The Vatican newspaper has denounced a decision by the Israeli army to deny emergency help to disaster victims in Sri Lanka.

Calling for “a radical and dramatic change of perspective” among people “too often preoccupied with making war,” L’Osservatore Romano singled out Israeli military leaders for declining a request for emergency medical help. The Vatican paper observed that in what “should be a time for unconditional solidarity,” some world leaders seem incapable of escaping a “small-minded approach that restricts their horizons.”

This is, of course completely backwards — and quite out of character for today’s Vatican (though not, sadly, the Vatican of, say, the 1840s). I tried to find the original story or editorial in L’Osservatore Romano, but apparently they only make available the first page of the paper on their website. My Italian reading skills are somewhat limited, but enough to verify both that the article wasn’t on the first page of any papers issued since The Wave struck, and that the other pages weren’t there. The fact that CWN took down the story is kind of interesting, but I haven’t seen any word of an official retraction or correction.

Blogger Meryl Yourish is tracking the story, and even got quoted in the [New Zealand] National Business Review.

And of course, Indy Media Watch reminds us that this has precedent, almost a year ago to the day: after the December 27, 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran refused Israeli assistance in digging survivors out of the rubble. At the time, a spokesman for Iran’s Interior Ministry said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran accepts all kinds of humanitarian aid from all countries and international organizations with the exception of the Zionist regime.”

I am having trouble imagining that any official of a government who had to face the survivors as voters would say such a thing. Which is yet another reason we need democracy in the middle east in order to have any hope of peace there.

P.S. If you’d like to donate to the relief effort in a way that is more or less guaranteed to help those who love their families more than they hate the Jews, consider donating the relief efforts of Chabad of Thailand whose efforts are outlined here.

One Response to “Playing politics with the tsunami”

  1. Different River Says:

    Biting the Hand that Feeds, Part 1: Sri Lanka
    The British charity Oxfam came to Sri Lanka to help with post-tsunami reconstruction. They brought their own trucks. So, the government of Sri Lanka charged Oxfam a 300% import tax on the trucks.

    And Oxfam paid it! After the trucks spent an entir…

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