Ethan Bronner in the New York Times took note Jan. 21 of the controversy surrounding Israel’s high-profile rescue mission to Haiti in a story entitled “For Israelis, Mixed Feelings on Aid Effort.” But the statements quoted are pretty tame compared to much of what is buzzing around the blogosphere. There is certainly something fundamentally perverse about the Israeli Defense Forces establishing a field hospital in Port-au-Prince as their blockade of the Gaza Strip is actively creating an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Commentators within Israel have made the point repeatedly. “Israel’s compassion in Haiti can’t hide our ugly face in Gaza,” wrote Akiva Eldar in Haaretz Jan. 18. Paul Woodward on the War in Context website Jan. 23 notes a piece in the Israeli daily Maariv entitled “The painful truth: Haiti’s disaster is good for the Jews.” Blogger Richard Silverstein Jan. 19 noted a piece in Israel’s Yediot by Yoel Donchin, a doctor who is himself a veteran of Israeli international disaster response teams—who accuses Israel of “Public Relations instead of saving lives.” Donchin actually blasts the IDF field hospital as a scam, saying that “sending portable toilets to Haiti would have been a better option, but this does not provide good photo opportunities.”
Twenty-two-year-old Emanuel Buso, who was extracted alive by an IDF rescue team after 11 days under rubble, can presumably be forgiven for loaning inadvertent assistance to Zionist propaganda. (YNet, Jan. 23) Unless the story is a creation planted in the media by Mossad, as the paranoid will undoubtedly tell us.
But more to the point: Whether or not Port-au-Prince needs port-o-sans, it is certainly a bit of a stretch to argue that it doesn’t need field hospitals. Oxfam is busy digging latrines (BBC News, Jan. 22), and we haven’t heard that they have dissed those operating field hospitals. A little time on Google News will reveal that Spain, Norway and Canada (as well as Doctors Without Borders) have also established field hospitals in Port-au-Prince. No such accusations are being made against them, that we are aware of.
Now admittedly, Spain’s treatment of the Basques, Norway’s treatment of the Sami, and Canada’s treatment of its First Nations don’t come close (in recent years, anyway) to Israel’s instrumented humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. But Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defense boasts in a Jan. 24 press release that it has a 1,000-strong contingent in MINUSTAH, the UN “peacekeeping” force in Haiti, which is involved in “the clearing of debris, the carrying out of rescue operations and the provision of medical assistance to the earthquake victims.” The statement also said Sri Lanka is donating 1,000 kilograms of tea for the relief effort.
This has met with no hand-wringing within Sri Lanka, nor accusations of propagandistic exploitation from without. Yet in Sri Lanka’s military campaign against Tamil rebels last year, an intentional humanitarian disaster was instrumented no less severe than that in Gaza. This persisted for months, until the besieged Tamil north of the island was finally overrun—because (in vivid contrast to the Gaza case) there was no international protest.
So, while we wish to cut Israel’s propagandists no slack, we do wonder: Why the double standard?
See our last post on Haiti