In the aftermath of the worst earthquake to hit Haiti in recent history, select Israeli police officers were sent to join relief efforts and maintain public order amidst increasing crime rates and a growing cholera epidemic. The mission was a humbling and praiseworthy humanitarian effort, but it has since cast a hypocritical shadow over the similarly distressed Palestinian people. Are they not worthy of altruistic humanitarianism?
Last week, the officers completed their three-month mission and returned to Tel Aviv where they were met with national praise. “It reflects the high morality of Israeli society,” said police Chief Superintendent Meir Namir. But just miles away from the press conference lay ramshackle refugee camps inhabited by a people experiencing disaster every day of their own lives. This concern is not meant to belittle the catastrophe in Haiti, but rather to question why Israel’s morality circumvents those under its occupation.
Israel’s relief mission brought to Haiti the first field hospital equipped with the tools necessary to perform complex surgical procedures. Joining the medical personnel were fourteen Israeli police patrol units working closely with their Italian counterparts to restore order to the devastated country. The combined force is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of Haitians by dutifully enforcing strict municipal regulations to minimize the growth of civil unrest as well as an already rampant cholera outbreak. Their efforts served the fundamental needs of a people unable to secure food, water, medicine, or long-lasting protection from increasingly violent street crime.
But now that the officers have completed their three-month tour in Haiti, back to the dirty work they’ll go. Back to guarding illegal settlers as they evict Palestinian families from homes inside Palestine’s 1967 borders. Back to denying Palestinians any access to Israeli hospitals even though no other nearby hospital has the capacity to treat such traumatic injuries. Back to breaking into homes and arresting adolescent boys without just cause, then denying them any due process of law. Back to a scandalous and widely condemned occupation of Palestine.
If the Israeli government can spare fourteen police officers to cross international waters, work in a foreign land under foreign commanders, and provide their services to protect the citizens of Haiti, surely the government can offer some form of organized effort to do the same in nearby occupied Gaza and the West Bank. After all, humanitarianism is never selective. If, as Namir claims, the morality of Israeli society is to quickly provide aid to those who need it most, then Israeli police officers would currently be protecting Palestinians from hateful and inflammatory settler attacks.
But they’re not. If anything, their lack of concern for Palestinian humanity permits Israeli settlers to continue torching Palestinian crops, vandalizing Palestinian homes, and running over — yes, running over with vehicles — Palestinian children.
With a death toll exceeding 200,000 men, women, and children, the earthquake in Haiti left behind nothing short of tragedy and chaos. Much of the country remains a danger zone and its resilient citizens still require foreign assistance. For that, the international community recognizes the police officers’ attempts to assist the disaster-struck population. At the same time, however, the international community naturally expects more from these officers. Humanitarian altruism transcends national and ethnic lines. Similarly, politics shouldn’t make anyone less human or less worthy, including Palestinians.
The values exhibited in post-earthquake Haiti must also be exhibited in Palestine, where military occupation is a seemingly endless experience. Unless Israel finds benefit in hypocrisy, it is in its best interest and the interest of humanity to provide the services it offered in Haiti to the innocent civilian population of Palestine. It can do this by indiscriminately allowing material aid through the borders or by ensuring the protection of Palestinians against settler-based hate crimes. Or better yet, Israel can make universal the humanitarianism displayed in Haiti by simply ending what the United Nations regards as a deplorable occupation of the Palestinian people.
Occupation may not be as immediately catastrophic as a major earthquake, but that doesn’t give Israel a free pass to overlook the suffering experienced by an entire population living behind concrete barriers and military checkpoints just miles away. If Israel seeks to establish itself as a humanitarian entity, it must ultimately alleviate the stressful conditions in Palestine the same way the fourteen police officers did in Haiti.