The Israeli military’s “Olive Branches” Humanitarian Aid Delegation has returned home upon completion of the mission.
By Erin Viner
Israel was one of the first nations to offer aid following devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria on 6 February that killed over 40,000 and injured tens of thousands of others.
During eight days of tireless efforts, search and rescue teams saved 19 people, while providing care to more than 470 injured civilians, among whom were approximately 150 children and 50 dental patients. Ten surgical and orthopedic operations were performed.
The Israeli mission consisted of a search and rescue delegation led by the Home Front Command and a medical aid delegation led by the Medical Corps in the Technological and Logistics Directorate (J4).
The medical aid delegation included approximately 150 doctors, nurses, surgeons, anesthesiologists, X-ray technicians, laboratory technicians, paramedics and medical logistics personnel. Also participating in the delegation were representatives from Magen David Adom national emergency medical and disaster service, the Ministry of Health and additional bodies including the national volunteer EMS organization and additional bodies – including national volunteer EMS organization, United Hatzalah of Israel, whose team included doctors, paramedics, a psycho-trauma and crisis unit, search and rescue team members, while also delivering medical supplies and humanitarian aid.
The Israeli teams assisted in reopening a local hospital in the city of Kahramanmaraş, where its members provided medical treatment to the wounded.
“Saving human lives is the key value and cornerstone of the Medical Corps. From the start, we knew it was our responsibility to come to Türkiye and save lives,” said Deputy IDF Surgeon General and Head of the IDF Medical Department, Colonel Dr. Tomer Koller, adding, “It was a great privilege for me to command the excellent medical teams that brought great honor to the country and the IDF. We will continue to save lives and help anyone in need wherever required.”
In the “stubborn, dedicated and determined effort to save lives,” J4 Head Major General Michel Yanko told the team, “You have proven that nothing compares to your professionalism, your dedication, your spirit. You embodied the truest face of the IDF and the State of Israel.”
The delegation also treated wounded Syrians who were in Turkey at the time of the earthquakes. Despite being in a formal state of war, Israel also offered to aid neighboring Syria – which has publicly not come to fruition.
After returning home aboard Israeli Air Force planes, the Olive Branch rescue mission was welcomed at ceremony by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, mission commander Col. (Res.) Golan Vach and Turkish Ambassador to Israel Şakir Özkan Torunlar.
“The entire people of Israel followed your rescue operation with great excitement. You went on behalf of the country, and you brought great honor to the State of Israel. We saw you in action in the cold, in difficult conditions around the clock in the most sacred work a person can do – saving the lives of others. ‘Whoever saves one soul’ – you know the rest. You saved 19 worlds,” said the Premier, adding, “You did something else. You showed the entire world the true and beautiful face of the State of Israel: A small country with a huge soul, a country that rushes to help others around the world and in the harshest conditions, out of humanity and the highest morality. This is the true face of Israel.”
He underscored, “In these stormy times, you remind all of us that we are one people, with one fate, and with one future. The entire people of Israel is proud of you. I am proud of you; I salute you.”
Defense Minister Gallant told the team, “You showed the beautiful face of Israel, of the security establishment and of the IDF. This idea, of which you are the main partners in its implementation, was deeply appreciated by the Turkish people, the public and the leadership. All of you together reflected the various aspects of the mosaic of Israeli society, and all of you showed the face of the beautiful Israeli, who always rushes to extend assistance, in the spirit of the values that guide us as a people and a country.”
Jerusalem’s top defense official went to to emphasize that, “alongside our unyielding fight to defend our homeland and our citizens against our enemies, we have always known how to extend a hand to all those in distress and who need help. From an endless sea of pain and sorrow, on an unbearable human tragedy, you were beacons of light, hope and pride.”
Also participating in the event were Prime Minister’s Office Director General Yossi Shelley, head of Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Rafi Milo, the Prime Minister’s Military Secretary Maj.-Gen. Avi Gil, MDA Director General Eli Binn, ZAKA Director General Dubi Rubinstein, Fire and Rescue Service Commissioner Eyal Caspi, National Emergency Authority Director Yoram Lardo, Airports Authority Chairman Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Yitzhak Gershon and other senior officials.