As Japan reels from a deadly earthquake and tsunami, Israel's government and trained volunteers are already on the way to help victims.
"We are sending a small group on its way to assess what can be done," was Sunday morning's dispatch from Shachar Zahavi, the founder and coordinator of IsraAID, the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid.
Zahavi's statement came in response to the national emergency in Japan, hit on Friday by a massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake. The earthquake set in motion a 20-foot tsunami and has caused massive destruction and loss of life in coastal towns in Japan, as well as its capital city, Tokyo. To make matters more perilous, the Fukushima nuclear reactor north of Tokyo is hanging by a thread as local authorities try to prevent a complete meltdown.
Some 1,800 people are reportedly dead from the earthquake and tsunami, and 10,000 are still missing. Some 200,000 people in the area of the Fukushima plant have been evacuated and have been ordered to take iodine pills to counter radioactivity, while some 160 may have been affected already, according to media reports Sunday.
While superpowers like the United States are stepping in to provide immediate relief, it's too early to say what Israel's role will be in helping Japan, but Zahavi tells ISRAEL21c that his organization is assessing ways in which it can help. A small Israeli crew is expected to leave Israel for Japan immediately to report back where their help can best be applied.
IsraAID is a non-profit umbrella group that gathers Israeli humanitarian and relief workers from 17 different organizations to lend medical aid, search and rescue help, and disaster relief at some of the world's biggest disaster sites, such a last year's earthquake in Haiti.
To mobilize support worldwide, IsraAID has set up a Japan & Pacific Earthquake and Tsunami Emergency Fund.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Israel's assistance immediately. The "people of Israel express their deep sorrow over the tragedy in Japan, and ... will work to provide any help that will be required," he said. Israel-Japan relations first began in 1952, when Japan recognized Israel as a state. Since 1963, Japan and Israel have maintained an embassy level relationship.
According to a local report by Yedioth International's Ynet News, the Japanese consul in Israel, Mitoshiko Shinomya, said it was too early for him to assess where Israel could help: "Israel officially offered its help an hour after the earthquake struck," he was quoted as saying. "It is very heart-warming, but at this point we do not know exactly what the extent of the damage is, so it is difficult for us to say what can be done."
Read more at Israel21c.com.