Saturday, December 4, 2010
Police delegation in Haiti wraps up ‘life-changing’ mission
“Every time we enter a refugee camp, small children approach us, and our medic treats them," deputy head of the delegation tells 'Post.'
By YAAKOV LAPPIN
When the 14-member Israel Police delegation arrived in Haiti three-and-a-half months ago at the invitation of the United Nations, the officers hoped their main job would be to protect residents and help rebuild a local police force.
Most of the time, that is precisely what the Israeli officers did. But they did other things, too.
“Every time we enter a refugee camp, small children with injuries approach us, and our medic treats them, though we are not medics,” Supt. Ron Krig, 33, deputy head of the delegation, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from Port-au-Prince on Tuesday.
In addition to bandaging wounds, giving their own lunches to locals and distributing water bottles, officers paid for children to go to school.
“A boy told us his family didn’t have the $30 for the annual school fee. We paid for his and friend’s fee. These are small things,” said Krig, who commands the Border Police’s Barak Unit in Israel.
“We give the schoolboys our food, which they sell to others and use the money to pay for notebooks and school uniforms,” he said.
The officers were stunned by the catastrophic situation of so many Haitians nearly a year after January’s massive earthquake.
“You can’t learn from the media what it’s like here, until you arrive yourself. The poverty, the suffering of the people. The dependence on the UN. These things are difficult to grasp,” Krig said.
Those desperate conditions, along with anger at the Haitian government, helped precipitate a wave of riots across the country three weeks ago, ahead of the national elections this past Sunday. The Israeli cops, like their international counterparts, found themselves in the thick of things.
Ch.-Supt. Meir Namir, 45, who heads the delegation, said the rising tensions had been evident before the riots broke out.
“When we first got here, our patrols were very warmly greeted at the refugee camps,” he said.
“But recently, the tone has changed. Complaints against the UN force and the local government became very aggressive.”
And then the violence erupted.
“It was like a wildfire. It began in the North and spread southward to the capital,” added Namir, who commands the police’s naval unit in Israel.
The UN sent the Israeli officers northward to help quell the disturbances, and they remained in the eye of the storm for a week.
“There was rock-throwing, Molotov cocktails and even shootings,” Namir said.
Officers arrived at a number of murder scenes in which machetes had been used, and found one victim whose body had been stripped and dragged by a vehicle.
“The feeling here has changed. We came to help the people; we did not come to use force.
And yet we found ourselves having to use riot-dispersal means. The feeling was very unpleasant, because we are in their home. I come from somewhere else. At the end of the day, we were enforcing the law in their home,” Namir said.
Still, Krig said, “the love for the State of Israel among the local population never waned. The children who were treated by Israeli medics or given water by the officers remember who helped them. Everywhere you go, when you say you’re from Israel, you are showered with warmth.”
Both officers also said they were moved by the warm relations between the Israeli and Italian police delegations, which share a base in Port-au-Prince.
“On Rosh Hashana, the Italians took an Israeli flag and sewed it to an Italian flag in the dining room. The Italians have a wonderful police force; these are first-class officers. It was an absolute pleasure to work with them. We enjoyed a real bond,” Krig said.
Looking ahead to their return home, scheduled for December 10, the men said their experiences had changed them for life.
“On a personal level, this has caused me to be grateful to be born into a different reality, and to value my country very much. I’m sorry to say it, but you can’t avoid such a feeling,” Namir said. “It has caused me to value life so much more.”
What most saddened him was the perception that many Haitians he came across “don’t always value their own lives. This was the most painful thing for me. They see themselves as the bottom rung of the pyramid.”
He added, “There is hope for this place, but the road is long. These people must be invested in.
“I can take satisfaction in the fact that Israelis are doing much for the Haitian people, like establishing hospital units and a limb-replacement center. Even if it is a little, it is a light.
Many other countries are helping as well. We must not give up or despair.”
Krig said the mission had brought him enormous pride in his country and police force.
“I can say with certainty that we have nothing to be ashamed about regarding our police, our army and our country,” he said. “I return a prouder Israeli and a prouder police officer.”