January 21st, 2010
11:34 AM ET

Israel's medical operation in Haiti

Program Note: Tune in tonight for live coverage on the situation on the ground in Haiti. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/21/t1.idf.clinic.doc.jpg caption="A medic at the IDF Field Hospital in Port-au-Prince checks on an injured child." width=300 height=169]

Ella Perlis
AC360° Associate Producer

Medical professionals in Haiti are struggling to help critically ill patients with limited resources. We've heard horror stories about doctors forced to substitute vodka for rubbing alcohol, and use hacksaws for amputations. These dramatic and desperate images are described by some as "civil war medicine." However, this is not the situation at an Israeli-run field hospital in the earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Located on a Port-au-Prince soccer field, the facility has operating rooms, an intensive care unit, a pediatric ward, and even a pharmacy. The technology is as sophisticated as most Western hospitals: it has x-ray equipment, respirators, monitors, and incubators that have sustained at least two pre-mature babies born since the earthquake.

How did a country that has never experienced a major earthquake respond so quickly and efficiently? To find out more about Israel's response in Haiti, I spoke with an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer. The man on the other end of the phone sounded familiar – a New York accent, distinctly from Queens – and the voice of my old friend from summer camp years ago.

The following is what Captain Barak Raz told me about Israel's operation in Haiti.

EP: How soon after the earthquake hit did Israel act, and what preparations were made for the mission?

CBR: A small assessment crew was sent within hours. The quake hit late at night Israeli time, and by early morning the assessment crew was in the air. That initial team included military officers and personnel form the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That crew arrived early Wed. and advised the government and the army on what was needed. We knew setting up a field hospital was the most important priority, so about 40 specialists went, including orthopedists, gynecologists, and surgeons. The search and rescue teams brought canine units, security, construction crews, and communications and logistics experts. More than 220 people were sent; they arrived on Friday.

EP: The airport was still recovering, and not fully operating on Friday. Did the Israeli delegation have trouble getting on the ground?

CBR: We sent 2 El Al planes – 1 with personnel, and 1 with cargo – the plane carrying the officers was able to land in Haiti and immediately get to work, but the cargo plane was delayed for about 8 hours before they were able to land.

EP: You're not in Haiti, but you've been in constant communication with the Israeli field hospital. What's the latest there, and how long will they remain in Port-au-Prince?

CBR: As of wed. afternoon, the doctors have performed over 140 life-saving operations, treated 383 people, are providing care for 62 people still in critical condition, and delivered 7 babies, including 2 pre-maturely. The mother of the first baby born in the hospital named her son Israel. Our search and rescue operations recovered a 52-year-old man buried in the rubble of a government building for 4 days, in addition to others rescued. They have also worked with teams form Russia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua to rescue victims. Unfortunately, people have died, not everyone can be a miracle. The plan was always to be there for at least 2 weeks, and supplies were sent with that in mind, but there is the possibility of an extension based on assessments. Another plane arrived on Wed. with Gen. Yair Golan of Home Front Command, and the Director General of the Ministry of Health, and the Surgeon General on board.

EP: Israel is over 6,500 miles from Haiti and has never experienced a major earthquake, are the troops uniquely qualified to respond to the situation in Port-au-Prince?

CBR: The country has always been committed to helping the international community. Israel has been doing this for a while with relief missions in Kenya in 2002, El Salvador and India in 2001, and even going back to aiding Rwandan refugees in Zaire in '94. Don't forget that Israel lies on the Syrian-African rift, so we have to be prepared for a major quake. We have minor ones, but we are preparing for worse. It's important for us to have highly trained people ready to do that work.

EP: How does the IDF train and practice in a country with limited open land?

CBR: We do exercises to simulate a variety of scenarios that can occur. We must practice for manmade destruction from war, but also for natural disasters. Home Front Command coordinates using construction sites after a building is demolished, and before the rubble is cleared away. In July, we had a national preparedness drill called Turning Point 3, which tested response on every level in an emergency. Last week we hosted the IPRED conference (International Preparedness and Response to Emergencies and Disasters) with drills and discussions on disasters and emergency medicine.

EP: Are the doctors experiencing a shortage in supplies? What's the plan for replenishing?

CBR: Israel has an embassy in the Dominican Republic, and that has been a huge help in the operation. They have also helped diplomatically by coordinating with the other relief organizations. We have additional supplies on the way to Haiti.

EP: Now, a personal question. You have dual American-Israeli citizenship, hail from Fresh Meadows in Queens, and graduated from Binghamton University in upstate New York. How are you feeling about the response by both your countries in Haiti? What do you want to say to your friends back home about it?

CBR: I am proud of the Americans for having the largest force in Haiti, and of the Israelis for their efforts. But it really is bigger than my citizenship, this is about worldwide support from all of the various countries helping out. That is above all the most important thing.

Filed under: Ella Perlis • Haiti Earthquake • Opinion
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Ohad

    I am an Israeli and I am very proud of the Israeli delegation. Thus far Israel has sent 3 planes already and the fourth is on the way. Also Israeli pharmasuticals giant Teva is donating 7.2 million $ in medicines and supplies.

    As for the US, it is doing tremendous work. Everyone here needs to understand that each country specializes in what it does best. Israel is good with hiting the ground running. That is why the hospital was all ready to go in 8 hours. The US is good with the post immediate sweeping action which is as important if not more important than aid. As reports show, crime is on the rise and this should be the Americans first concern. That is why the US 3500 are so badly needed. Without them all the aid would be in vain. So kudos America, kudos Israel and kudos for the rest of the world for lending a helping hand. Those who did not, you know who you are, shame on you...

    January 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
  2. M

    Amazingly proud of CBR. Keep up the good work, friend!

    January 21, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  3. megan

    cnn please know that democracy now is good source (and tweet) for media netwoking through this deadly "bottelneck" of medical supplies sitting at the airport waiting,,,
    thanq for your heart...

    January 21, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  4. Isabel - Brazil •

    What these people are doing is so special. These professionals are donating in in their heart.

    January 21, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  5. Carole

    Anderson and Company,

    You're doing a great job, keep up the good work.

    January 21, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  6. Bonnie

    I wanted to know with all the monies raised to help Haiti and with the many people donated to various organizations like the red cross and many others how will we know whether or not these monies donated will be used strictly to help Haiti as the donors intended? Who will be keeping tract of these many organizations to make sure that the monies donated are not used for personal gains and to help other countries while yet again the Haitian people continue to suffer because monies donated to help them have been mismanaged or use for other causes other than for the people of Haiti.

    January 21, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  7. Fatima Roland

    My husband Donald Roland is a plastic surgeon in NYC We were watching Anderson Cooper last night when he suggested that doctors should just get to Haiti how ever they can. He decided that he is going . We sent a text message to all of our friends and patients letting them know that he was going and that we needed supplies and donation. So far we have a truck full of supplies and about $10K in donations. He is leaving tomorrow night for a week to ten days. Thank you for letting us know how severe the situation is.

    January 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  8. Declan Sheehan


    You and Sanjay are doing such great work but is anyone in Washington listening, do they watch CNN day after day and not see what is happening ?? Does President Obama not see that what was needed from the very begining was MASH type field hospitals. We had to wait until a hospital ship was prepared and then wait many days until it sailed to Haiti. I am shocked at the US medical response. It took Isreal to show us what was needed from thousands of miles away they were able to fly in a first class fiels hospital team.

    January 21, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  9. DD salyers

    whats wrong with our world when we cant do something as simple as get supplies to those poor people,its pathetic and enough to make you sick. dear god help those poor people.

    January 21, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  10. Tom

    For the 2.7 billion dollars Haiti has received from around the world mainly from the USA, there has to be accountability as to where these funds went, and surely this current Haiti government must be held accountable for the extent of this disaster. The relief fund is not going to where it is needed -to the people, infrastructure, hospitals, schools, better building codes, and food production.

    Where are these 800 million aid dollars going to go?

    January 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  11. Gayle Davenport

    We have been lucky with no rain so far. What is going to happen when it rains? It is only months away from Hurricane season, and there is no way these poor people will be in homes when Hurricane season starts. Are there any thoughts to weather and how the people will be protected from the elements? The CNN coverage has been outstanding, The reporters and crew of CNN are remarkable and the stories often miraculous. I agree with Jill Ryan, the team should recieve praise. In fact, Dr. Gupta, Anderson Cooper and a couple of others on the team should be nominated for the CNN Heros award for their own acts of heroism. Thank you all.

    January 21, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  12. wayne foster

    It is wonderful to see the world act as a family- so many countries and organizations acting in concert! In Canada our Governor General is from Haiti and if you look in her eyes you can see how great a people they are. Lets all keep donating and doing.

    January 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  13. Audrey

    Throwing food and supplies from the air is so cowerdly. This is treating those poor people like animals and no better than throwing a bone to a pack of hungry wild dogs. How do they expect these poor people to react. It is a shame to watch what our governments are doing with our donations. God Bless and help the Haitians.

    January 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  14. Jill Ryan

    Kudo's to Israel, they are amazing.

    Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta, in fact the entire CNN crew in Haiti, should receive Congressional accolades for their selfless, humanitarian efforts.

    January 21, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  15. Kathy

    Just wondering what ever happened to the young boy you ran across
    last week who had been beating up on by looters and who was
    bleeding so much from the head he keep whiping off the blood from
    his face you put your equipment down and took him where??
    unable to get that image out of my head thanks for all your doing

    January 21, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  16. sheila rucker

    To IDF THANK YOU for all the woderful help you are offering to the people of Haiti.
    I am American and I think you are such a wonderful example of getting something done quickly to help the people of Haiti.
    Thanks again and spread you acknowledge.

    January 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  17. N. Manetavat

    Israel has experience she has involved in the war zone for fifty years. Trauma from war is as bad as trauma from nature.

    January 21, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  18. Flore

    Dear Anderson,
    As an haitian, I thank you very much for the wonderful job you've been doing in Haiti since the earthquake.
    I would like to ask you to please go carrefour, it's a city 15minutes away from Port-au-prince, they still have people without medical help, let alone for food or water. please help! they are dying.
    Thank you

    January 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  19. Denise Barlow

    Why does an assessment have to be made? Good grief, someone should have walked into the situation, assessed the huge need for medical help and done it. It's that simple. Who does these assessments anyway? This inquiring mind wants to know.

    January 21, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  20. Beatrice

    Anderson I am foreever grateful to you, the other reporters and CNN for bringing us the stories. You made it possible for us who live here in the US who are unable to contact and be with their families to view the full story and even made contact . Your reporting is fair, you don't just report the news, you advocate for the Haitian's people. Thank you.

    January 21, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  21. steve clark

    Hi Anderson,
    I sent an email to Larry King also. I am not sure he will see or address it. My question is the US is doing so much what is the rest of the world doing money and help wise and who is not participating that could or should?
    Steve Clark Fort Lauderdale

    January 21, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  22. Thanhhuong thi Nguyen

    Wowwww! What Israel did was a remarkable! Hopefully no more wounded Haitians die of lack of medical supply.
    I still wonder why all the richest countries, including United State wouldn't or couldn't do the same from the begining? Perhaps it is easier to talks than dos?

    January 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  23. Roberta Cruz

    Way to go Israel! They know how to work smarter, not harder. Amazing people. Now I know where to go for my health care!

    January 21, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  24. Yulenia Gaton

    I am proud of the biggest effort of international aid to Haiti. Specially, Israel's medical respond for their effectiveness, quickest and quality humanitarian work they are doing in Haiti, in conjuction with others nations making a difference in that country. To all the countries and to CNN, AC360 staff; well done for transmit via TV with professionalism and passion for your work bring to the world the best developed stories. the world is well informed by you CNN. tha

    January 21, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  25. Susan Stamos

    Oh, my god. Please Anderson don't leave their..........Please all Americans stop all this suffering now!!!!!!!!! Notify our President about the way this has been handled from the very beginning........

    January 21, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  26. Ladis

    I dont understand how the Israele medical team could get up and running so immediately...they are amazing..just like their airport security...
    Were the logistics different for them ? I dont think so.....
    Live and learn, all......

    January 21, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  27. CarolBeard

    I would like to see video coverage showing the difficulties getting supplies in: crowdedness at the airport, does the tower have electricity? enough controllers?, condition of roads leaving airport, coverage of who is or isn't in charge, any confusion getting clearance to land,etc.

    January 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  28. Cindy

    I can't see how Israel has been able to respond so fast, set up this great facility and saved so many lives yet not one other place can do the same. Why is that!? I don't get it at all!

    Heck..maybe Israel needs to be running things in Haiti!


    January 21, 2010 at 11:53 am |