We don't ask 'Can we go?' - The IDF's top medic on coping with disaster

The IDF's top medic recalls how they coped with disaster


The first earthquake hit Nepal on the morning of April 25. At a magnitude of 7.8, thousands were killed and tens of thousands injured.

It was just past 9am, Israeli time. At 11pm, Dr Hagit Padova was told she would be flying to Kathmandu the next morning as the senior physician on the Israeli Defence Force's emergency medical crew.

As head of the army's medical branch, the lieutenant colonel was leading her first mission to a disaster zone, having feared she had missed her chance because she kept Shabbat.

Dr Padova had no time to say goodbye to her family and did not see them for three weeks.

"I was going to a place which was not totally safe, and they were worried, I'm sure, but my husband supports what I do, and I hope that I set an example for my children for what is right - being where you're needed and doing what you know best."

In her own words

Dr Padova spent a week in the UK as a guest of the Israeli embassy and the campaigning organisation StandWithUs UK talking about her experiences in crisis zones. She spoke to audiences in London, Manchester and Edinburgh about her work in Nepal and the IDF's mountain rescue team

Despite being delayed by fears that aftershocks could disrupt landings, 260 IDF personnel - more than from any other country apart from India - touched down 48 hours after Nepal's greatest natural disaster in 81 years.

Dr Padova said: "There's no other country in the world which has the capability Israel does, to send out a search-and-rescue team and a medical crew with a field hospital so fast and efficiently. It's extraordinary.

"We don't ask: 'Can we go?' We go where we're needed, so when there is a disaster, we start preparing a mission.

"We don't ask why, because Israel has a humanitarian responsibility, a moral obligation to save lives. We can relate it to our history as refugees, of being in danger time and again and with no one helping us.

"And the Mishnah says that whoever saves one soul, it is as if he saves the whole world."

The medical team was made aware of the scale of devastation while travelling to the area.

"On the way from the airport we saw the destruction; we saw the people on the street, who slept on the street when they weren't looking for survivors."

On Wednesday morning at 8am, the Israeli field hospital, comprising two operating rooms, 95 tons of equipment and an intensive care unit, welcomed its first patient.

Over the next two weeks, teams worked round the clock finding and treating 1,700 victims, performing more than 200 operations and delivering eight babies. But Dr Padova recalled one with particular fondness.

"We were going around with the rescue team through the mountains looking for Israeli tourists who were missing, and I found a 12-year-old girl. She had a brain haemorrhage.

"We paid for an ambulance to take her to the Israeli hospital, she had neurosurgery and she's getting better. I treated her personally, so she is very special to me. If we had not been there to find her and give her medical treatment, she would not have survived, so that's very meaningful."

Nepal has received £2.7 billion in foreign aid since the disaster, but has not been able to spend a penny. Dr Padova said the help provided by Israel to save lives was more important than money.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive