In July 2006, I had the opportunity to organize a blood drive for a community of Iranian-American Mashadi Jews who were in Israel celebrating the bar and bat mitzvahs of their children. This was an early cornerstone in what would become an enormously successful program of bringing Americans in Israel to donate blood, making a tangible impact on Israel’s blood supply, helping to save lives in the most direct way a tourist can. Haaretz termed it “Israel’s newest tourist attraction,” and I coined the phrase, “the best gift to bring home is the one you leave behind.”
On this particular day in July, more than three dozen people donated blood, taking time from relaxing on vacation and enjoying the sites to do what, in coming years, thousands of others would do as well. The atmosphere was festive. Those who donated their blood did so whole heartedly. Those who were rejected for one reason or another exhibited the same level of emotion, although tinged with disappointment.
I’ll never forget one particular woman who, even before filling out the paperwork, insisted that her blood only be used for soldiers in the IDF. She was adamant, and almost nothing I said seemed to make her budge. I remember my response that finally did move her: “Thank God, things are peaceful now, but if God forbid, there should be a need, you can feel confident that MDA’s national blood services provides 100% of the needs of the IDF.” This and a few more words convinced her that donating was not in vain, even if a soldier didn’t receive her blood.
Three days later, Israel was rocked by news of a cross border attack from Lebanon on a group of reserve soldiers patrolling its northern border. Several were killed on the spot and two soldiers were kidnapped, their bodies held hostage for years in what became the beginning of Israel’s Second Lebanon War.
I can’t say that my experience with the woman donating blood was prophetic, but the coincidence was not lost that on July 9 she had insisted on giving her blood to an Israeli soldier, and three days later a war began that left 44 Israeli civilians and 119 Israeli soldiers dead. Hundreds more were injured. From the beginning of month-long war, nearly 4,000 rockets landed on Israel, more than 900 in urban areas. An additional 4,262 civilians were treated in hospitals. 6,000 homes were hit, 300,000 residents displaced, and more than a million people were forced to live in shelters. Almost a third of Israel’s population — over two million people — were directly exposed to the missile threat.
Now, six years after the beginning of the Second Lebanon War, Israeli media spent significant time reflecting on the war and its many outcomes. Most touching were the stories and interviews with people “for whom the war never ended,” those who lost loved ones, even amid the most brave and selfless acts of heroism, and for whom the 2006 war lingers every day.
Other than the political and military fallout, and of course injuries and loss of life and property, one recurrent theme this week was how things have changed geopolitically since then. It’s noted that while Hezbollah had many of their arms destroyed and terrorists killed, they were still able to fire 4,000 rockets packed with shrapnel to maximize the damage. Today, it’s believed that they have more than recouped their abilities and supply of weapons, supplied by Iran through Syria.
What’s different too is that Iran, the patron, is vastly significantly further along in the process of making a nuclear weapon that they don’t hide will be able to incinerate Israel. Supply lines through Syria may be interrupted and uncertianties within Syria, including who is in control of their conventional and non-conventional weapons, are also new in 2012. Speculation is rife that in order to save the current regime, Syria will use its weapons against Israel, uniting their factions against what at least used to be a common enemy.
And further speculation continues about whether, if Iran is attacked pre-emptively, what the response and damage will be in Israel. Possibilities include Hezbollah unleashing thousands of long range rockets from Lebanon, others from Syria, terrorism from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as threats from the Egyptian Sinai, which has become a wild west overtaken by drug, weapon, and human smuggling Bedouin, or competing terrorist cells from Gaza and elsewhere.
During the month long Second Lebanon War, some 34,000 Israelis stepped to the plate and donated blood to provide an abundant supply to save lives of those who were injured. It’s not that a new war is inevitable and people need to rush to donate blood just in case. But, we always have to be prepared, as that one American woman who insisted her blood donation go to Israeli soldiers instinctively knew.
Not knowing what’s looming tomorrow or three days from now, it’s best to be safe and protected than sorry and unprepared. For that reason, the importance of MDA’s national blood services is paramount, and all who can, should support it.