Tel Aviv Diary: Aid for Nepalese, None for Palestinians

2015-04-29T142114Z_1505084219_GF10000077328_RTRMADP_3_QUAKE-NEPAL
An injured resident is taken off a helicopter on April 29 at the Israel Defense Forces field hospital following Saturday’s earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal. Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

It has been a strange week in Israel. The week began with news of the catastrophic earthquake in Nepal. Israel has always had close emotional ties to Nepal, forged by two generations of Israelis who, upon finishing their army service, set out on trips to faraway places, with Nepal and the Himalayas always being among the more popular destinations.

The first thoughts in many Israeli homes were of their sons and daughters who might have been hurt in the quake. There were few people in Israel who did not know someone visiting Nepal. I even knew two people who were there, one a next-door neighbor. The Israeli authorities and insurance companies that deal with missing travelers immediately sprang into action to find and rescue the missing Israelis, wherever they might be in Nepal.

At the same time, the army swiftly began organizing for a mission, the kind at which it excels: deploying relief teams (usually medical) to get out on the ground in Nepal and help. Within a short time, that team was on its way. By the middle of the week, they had set up a field hospital in Kathmandu to help the wounded Nepalis, while the Israeli Air Force and Israel's national carrier, El Al Israel Airlines, arranged for the evacuation of all Israeli citizens visiting Nepal.

A side drama also developed, as Nepal is a place where Israeli gay couples go to arrange surrogate mothers for their babies. All of those babies, as well as their new mothers and those far along in their pregnancies, were also brought back to Israel, with the Ministry of Interior waiving all normal restrictions on their entry.

This provoked a heated national debate on the ethics of surrogacy in places like Nepal. It also raised questions, such as why the generally liberal Israeli position toward gays does not allow them to undertake surrogacies here at home.

However, none of this drama was being spoken about here as the week came to a close. Israel sent the largest contingent of relief workers to Nepal of any country in the world, and many Israelis were stunned by the criticism received for those efforts. The criticism largely came in the form of the following indictment: How can you do so much for the Nepalis while not caring much about the Palestinians in Gaza? That criticism—and Israelis' surprised reaction to it—highlights the gulf between Israelis and others in the world.

To many people around the globe, Palestinians are, like the Nepalis, just helpless victims of terrible events. To Israelis, the Palestinians are a people who have attacked them for more than two generations and continue to do so. To the world, those in Gaza are innocent victims. To the Israelis, the Gazans are the ones who sent suicide bombers to our cities a decade ago and fired missiles at those same cities last summer.

To Israelis it is clear why we should try to do what we can to help the innocent victims of an earthquake in a land that has always made visiting Israelis welcome (while not doing much for those who would wish ill of us). To those in the world who see Israel as responsible for the plight of those innocent Gazans, it makes no sense that Israel should seemingly care so little for victims that are physically so close. It really does not make a difference who is right—perception is its own reality, and both Israelis and their critics need to recognize the other's perception.

Of course, events in the Middle East did not stand still while tragedy was taking place in the far-off Himalayas. The turmoil to our north continued to spill over into our borders.

According to reports in the media (not confirmed by the Israeli government), the Israeli Air Force attacked targets in western Syria last weekend, destroying a shipment of advanced missiles that were on their way to Hezbollah. Hezbollah responded by attempting to ambush an Israeli patrol along the Syrian border. However, the infiltrators were discovered and killed before they could do any damage.

Earlier in the week, there was fear that events in the north might spin out of control. By the end of the week, that fear seemed to have diminished, but no one in Israel is betting we will continue to be successful in keeping our northern border quiet as war rages on in Syria and in other areas between Sunni and Shiites, and between ISIS and other more moderate groups.

While all of this has been going on, government coalition talks have continued in Israel, with the clock running down to next week's deadline. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached final agreements with two of his coalition partners but still has not reached agreements with three other parties.

It is accepted wisdom that somehow Netanyahu will reach his needed agreement by 8 p.m. next Wednesday and will not have to return his mandate for forming the next Knesset coalition to President Reuven Rivlin. However, between now and then expect to see a game of high-stakes poker being played out as each of the remaining parties tries to extract the maximum it can from Netanyahu as he makes his last best efforts to form a coalition.

Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com.