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The Podium

The politicization of trauma care

On the face of it, Israel has made a good and generous offer: a country well-versed in advanced trauma care offers a team of experts to Boston and its neighbors at a time of great hardship, supporting the needs of innocent victims of the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. Last week six Israeli trauma experts from the Israel Trauma Coalition for Response and Preparedness visited Boston to help develop recovery strategies with their local counterparts.

Funded by Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies to the tune of roughly $75,000, this is part of an effort to “provide people with a Jewish response to helping victims and their families recover from this traumatic event,” said Gail Weinberg of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas on its website. Interestingly, Israeli trauma teams have been active all over the world, from post-earthquake Haiti to post-Katrina New Orleans, from Mumbai, India to Toulouse, France. Coalition director Talia Levanon explains in The Times of Israel, “You are meeting different people in different parts of the world, but they all have the same fears and issues and responses. The world has become a small place and we derive a lot of strength when we work together. We speak the same emotional language all over the world.”

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So why does this make me uneasy? While I have no doubt that the experience and broad community focus of the Israeli team has been helpful, Boston is a major medical center with world-class hospitals and trauma teams and strong community resources.

An Israeli team in Boston provides Israel with a feel good moment and well-publicized appreciation, from the Massachusetts governor on down.

But there is a powerful disconnect here. I just received a note from Rabbis for Human Rights about 40,000 Bedouin Israeli citizens who are being removed from their homes and sources of income to artificial townships. I am troubled by the steady stream of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strikes in Israeli jails, trapped for months without trials in endless administrative detention.

Then there is the news from the West Bank town of Budrus, where years of nonviolent protests led to a change in the path of the Israeli-built separation wall. Last week, after the release of a graphic novel by Just Vision documenting that struggle, the Israeli army arrived, shooting tear gas and starting a fire in the village’s olive groves. And the 1.7 million inhabitants of Gaza, over half of whom are children, live on the edge of hunger, deprivation, and uncertainty due to the ongoing siege and frequent Israeli incursions.

There is also the issue of asylum seekers. In February, Israeli authorities deported over 1,000 Sudanese refugees to North Sudan despite the fact that, “[Sudan] has vowed to punish any of its citizens who ever set foot in Israel.” Ironically, many of the Sudanese who fled to Israel left from Darfur where there is an ongoing struggle by Jewish US activists against the genocidal policies of the Sudanese government.

But to return to the Boston victims, I have no doubt that the Israeli trauma team was filled with good intentions as well as expertise, but this feels like an opportunistic political moment where good deeds are actually part of a larger intent to manipulate image making.

What about the victims that are not an ocean away? Do they not “all have the same fears and issues and responses?” Do they not “speak the same emotional language all over the world?” I can only ask, are they not deserving of the care, expertise, and attention of Israeli trauma teams? Why come all the way to Boston?

Alice Rothchild is a Boston-based physician, author, and filmmaker who is active in the US Jewish peace movement.
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