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Israel Humanitarian Operations: Tsunami, Earthquake,
Flood Relief in Japan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly offered aid to the victims of the massive earthquake in Japan on March 11, 2011, and the first group of Israeli humanitarian experts was already prepared to leave for the scene the day it struck. Netanyahu’s office issued a statement, saying: “Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a message to the Japanese government, saying that the people of Israel express their deep sorrow over the tragedy in Japan, and that he will work to provide any help that will be required. The Japanese ambassador expressed his gratitude and said that he will convey the message to his government.”

Shachar Zahavi, founder and coordinator of IsraAID, The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, said in an email to The Israel Project, “IsraAID/FIRST disaster relief teams, consisting of first responders, search and rescue specialists, logisticians, emergency medical personnel and water specialists, are preparing to travel to the region within the next 24 hours.”

IsraAID, a coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, established a Japan & Pacific Earthquake and Tsunami Emergency Fund to assist victims of this disaster, and immediately prepared relief teams of first responders, search and rescue specialists, logisticians, emergency medical personnel and water specialists for travel to the region.

Another Israeli aid group, ZAKA International Rescue Unit, said it would send a team of trained volunteers from Israel to help the search and rescue efforts headed by the organization's co-directors Mati Goldstein and Dovi Maisel. A second ZAKA team based in Hong Kong was to leave for the quake area after the conclusion of the Sabbath in their region. ZAKA’s experts have gained valuable experience assisting at natural disasters around the world, including Haiti, the tsunami in Thailand and the hurricane in New Orleans.

Israelis, who have dealt with many disasters through wars and terrorism in their own country, have become experts in emergency medicine and trauma. Israel also has considerable expertise in clean water management.

On March 21, 2011, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs communicated that a preliminary IDF Homefront Command medical delegation, comprising two doctors and a Homefront Command officer, arrived in the Miyagi prefecture north of Tokyo and had begun their appraisal of requirements that would enable the dispatch of the full-scale medical delegation.

In the days prior to the IDF's humanitarian aid delegation's March 26 departure for Japan, the MFA worked with the Japanese authorities to determine a list of the most necessary items. The Japanese authorities noted that Israel will be one of the first countries to provide aid in accordance with their requirements. The initial aid shipment of essential items included 10,000 coats, 6,000 blankets, 8,000 pairs of gloves and 150 portable toilets

On March 28, 2011, the IDF Home Front Command and Medical Corps aid delegation to Japan arrived at Minami Sanriku in the Miyagi prefecture, a city handling many displaced persons. The following day, they opened an advanced medical clinic featuring pediatrics, surgical, maternity and gynecological, and otolaryngology wards, an optometry department, a laboratory, a pharmacy and an intensive care unit. The clinic's first patient was the mayor of Minamisanriku, who had recently been injured. He was examined by the commander of the medical delegation, deputy to the IDF Chief Medical Officer, Col. Dr. Ofir Cohen-Marom.

IsraAID kept a team stationed in Japan in the years following the 2011 disaster to provide infrastructure and psychological support for those affected.  The Israeli team sprung into action once more in July 2018, when devastating flooding caused significant damage and loss of life in the Okayama prefecture of Western Japan.  Record-breaking rainfall caused landslides and flooding that destroyed homes and displaced more than 2 million individuals.  The team from IsraAID helped local Japanese organizations with search-and-rescue efforts, as well as clean-up and seeing to the needs of the victims.  

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
The Israel Project;
Abigail Klein-Leichman. IsraAID-trained emergency team sent to flooded Japan area, Israel21c, (July 9, 2018).