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Press Release – 30 January 2005

The Tsunami disaster: Official Statement from the SZC

This is an official message from the State Zionist Council of Victoria

As the news of the tsunami that ravaged southeast Asia set in, media outlets from all over the world scrambled to not only report the devastating effects, but to bring back news of the relief efforts offered by countries from all over the world. Despite the fact that these various news agencies have teams of reporters in Israel, few of the major news outlets have informed the public about the Israeli effort. In fact, it was Israel who was among the very first to respond with real help.

Since the fateful day that the Tsunami hit, Israel has been providing phenomenal services in the affected areas, gathering her considerable expertise in disaster relief, search and rescue and victim identification.

Being one of the first countries to offer assistance and to send aid to countries hit by the disaster, Israeli army doctors were sent to provide medical assistance in Thailand and Sri Lanka and army teams were also dispatched to search for missing people in Southern India. On-site Israeli crisis centres were established in Phuket, Krabi and Koh Phi Phi in Thailand on 26 December, in Sri Lanka on 27 December and in South India and the Andaman Islands on 28 December, with Israeli teams being the first to arrive in the Andaman Islands.

The assistance provided by Israeli officials has certainly not stopped there, and an important focus of these crisis centres have been to work in conjunction with local authorities to provide assistance to the countries struck horrifically by the scope and magnitude of this disaster. Within days of the tragedy, volunteer organisations in Israel had joined together to collect donations of goods, funds and other aid for the tsunami-stricken areas and shipments of tons of humanitarian aid and food. Medical and humanitarian relief teams were dispatched, and eighty-two tons of humanitarian assistance was given to Sri Lanka alone in cooperation with the Israeli Defence Force. This included 10,000 blankets, 3,679 litres of mineral water, 12 tons of food, 17.5 tons of baby food and over 9 tons of medicines worth $600,000, 500 masks and 3000 body bags. These activities have been carried out in full and complete cooperation with the IDF, the Israel Police and Forensic Unit delegation, ZAKA Rescue and Identification Organisation, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Health and El-Al airline. The doctors that have been sent as part of the Israeli medical team specialise in rescue operations, trauma and paediatrics.

A ZAKA (Disaster Victims Identification) rescue and recovery team of 20 volunteers left for the disaster areas in Thailand on 3 January 2005 armed with search and rescue equipment and tools for identifying bodies, as well as body bags. Their expertise in diaster relief is unparalleled and their swift response is a testament to the rapid response that is required in Israel on a daily basis due to unrelenting terrorism. Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the head of ZAKA has stated, �the Israeli delegation [in southeast Asia] has become famous. All other countries are looking for us, a small country with our relatively small delegation to get advice. The Israeli delegation has been working around the clock to ensure a maximum amount of assistance is provided to the disaster relief effort. Meshi-Zahav’s work has taken him to Thailand, Turkey and Egypt to identify victims of terror attacks and natural disasters. “We are here to help all human beings – it’s like what Noah must have seen after the great flood. The death and devastation prompted the former chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau to urge even the most religious aid workers to continue working on the Jewish Sabbath, the day of rest. This team have become instantly identifiable by their beards and black hats. Due to their strict religious observance regarding the laws of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) they were able to eat only Lychees and coconuts for their first few days in Thailand, despite their tireless efforts and lack of sleep.

Israeli officials have assisted, particularly in Krabi and Phuket, with providing care for the families who have travelled to the areas in order to identify family members. Such centres have also been used to assist nationals of countries such as Belgium, Mexico, South Africa and the United States to make telephone calls home, and these officials have also assisted foreign nationals in identifying their loved ones. A special plan was also placed at the disposal of foreign nationals who wished to be evacuated from Sri Lanka together with the Israelis.

The Chabad Houses in Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Ko Samui were immediately converted into crisis centres too, where survivors were able to receive medical help, free meals, funds for new clothing, placing free international phone calls and receiving free internet use to inform their loved ones of their whereabouts and being helped in their efforts to locate their friends as of yet unaccounted for.

The State Zionist Council of Victoria is proud of Israel’s remarkable humanitarian efforts and calls on world recognition of such acts of kindness and generosity. Israel is faced with constant terrorist attacks and ongoing security threats, yet has still managed to co-ordinate one of, if not the most incredible relief packages per capita than any other country.

The Council therefore calls on all international and local media organisations to give Israel the credibility she deserves. Hopefully the dissemination of this information will lead to a greater understanding of Israelf’s values.

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