Anyone who thinks the primary concern of human rights organizations is the welfare of the people they are trying to help should consider this report on Israel’s medical mission to Congo.
Last week, four Israeli burn specialists arrived in Congo to treat survivors of the fuel truck explosion that killed 235 people on July 2 — a mission organized and funded by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. They were not the first foreign doctors on the scene, but they were the first burn specialists, and the first to come with specialized equipment for treating burns. As such, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Congolese; President Joseph Kabila even phoned to thank them personally.
One might have expected them to be equally welcomed by the doctors already on the scene, a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres. After all, the MSF doctors had traveled all the way to the remote town of Sange to help the victims; surely they would be glad to see specialists with specialized equipment, who could help their patients in ways they themselves could not.
So when Haaretz’s reporter heard from the Israeli team that the MSF doctors — whose organization has repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes” against the Palestinians — “treated them coolly and suspiciously at first,” with a Belgian doctor even telling them “there are obvious political sensitivities” about working together, he naturally sought confirmation from the source. The Israelis could easily have been misinterpreting a naturally restrained European style as a cold shoulder or overreacting to a remark not intended to offend.
But when he tried to ask the MSF doctors, they informed him that they were forbidden to speak with him without permission from their head office. And when he then tried to contact the head office, it never responded to his request.
In other words, neither the MSF doctors on the scene nor the MSF head-office staff could bring themselves to say something as banal as “Yes, we’re glad to see our Congolese patients getting proper specialist care regardless of who the caregivers are.”
A social activist from that region of Congo, Jean-Michel Bolima, had no such problems. “Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable,” he declared.
But MSF, it seems, would rather see its patients continue to suffer than deal with the cognitive dissonance of discovering that, far from fitting neatly into its designated pigeonhole as the world’s pariah, Israel, by the very standards MSF claims to uphold, can often be downright “admirable.”