Indonesians Train in Israel during Multinational Medical Program

Photo Courtesy of Pioter Fliter-RHCC.

Rambam Medical Center’s trauma system and mass casualty training seminar brings doctors from around the world to Israel, and recently that included five medical professionals from the most populous Muslim nation: Indonesia. Despite the fact that Israel and Indonesia do not have diplomatic relations, the medical professionals were able to spend two weeks in November traveling around Israel to learn from Israeli trauma and mass casualty expertise.

Dr. Moshe Michaelson, medical director of Rambam’s Teaching Center for Trauma, Emergency and Mass Casualty Situations, told The Mideast Update in a phone interview that more than two-dozen medical professionals from all over the world came to the multi-national training course, the eighth one of its kind.

”I think it’s important that people will be prepared for any kind of mass casualty event, because it will happen everywhere, someday. So if you’re not prepared it will be a disaster,” said Michaelson. “If you’re prepared, you can save more lives.”

Rambam was able to coordinate the “Eighth Seminar on Developing and Organizing a Trauma System and Mass Casualty Event Organization” with help from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which publicized the training program abroad.

Cooperating with Indonesia

An Israeli official, speaking by phone on background with The Mideast Update, said the Indonesians were recruited through other organizational links since there are no formal diplomatic ties with the country. It’s not the only time connections have been made.

“We try to find all kinds of channels to cooperate with them on ‘softer issues,’” said the official. “Softer issues meaning primarily when it comes to development programs [like the seminar], when it comes to economic and commercial things, in a way that will be well received by both sides that wouldn’t be too ‘oversensitive,’ should I say.”

While political issues are left aside in such links at this point, the official said there’s an “interest that we’ve seen from Indonesia in different types of [these unofficial] relations with us.” He said they hope that someday this cooperation will be seen as a “normal thing,” as it is with the United States and elsewhere.

In nations with diplomatic ties, Israel is able to recruit for the Rambam seminar through their embassies in those nations. Regardless, the project is done with assistance from Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV), a branch of the Foreign Ministry.

In the case of Indonesia, the various efforts similar to the trauma training seminar have helped in the public relations realm, even if it is still complicated. The official said they hope that ideally down the road the situation can be more public and formal.

“Slowly they get to know us better, we get to know them better,” said the Israeli official. “We manage to bring down some of the barriers and some of the misconceptions about where we’re coming from and what we’re about; and to show what Israel actually has to offer; and Israel is contributing to what we call the ‘global agenda;’ that through this there also will be more understanding, even on the political level eventually.”

Michaelson emphasized the personal impact the seminar can have on the Indonesians. According to a Rambam press release, the program included tourism opportunities in Israel as well. Said Michaelson, “They were enthusiastic [about the course]… There are more than 200 million Indonesians, so five or six or a million won’t change anything [on the diplomatic relations]… But these people who were in Israel will think differently about Israel, now that they saw the real Israel.”

Based on testimony an Indonesian who took part in the course, it seems to be working. “Some of my friends and family were afraid and didn’t want me to come here because of what they see on television,” said one Indonesian quoted by the Rambam press release, “but it’s totally different than what the media shows.”

More than Indonesia

The press release said a total of 17 nations were represented by the seminar’s participants, including Vietnam. According to the Israeli Office of the President, President Shimon Peres recently left to visit the Asian nation, which does have diplomatic relations with Israel. In a historic visit, Peres went to Vietnam with a team of dozens of government and business representatives.

Back in Israel, Rambam has made some of their own connections with the Vietnamese. Dr. Phinh Bui, a doctor from Vietnam’s Trung Vuong Hospital and participating in the Rambam trauma program, told The Mideast Update by phone during the seminar he thought it was “very good.”

He noted that Israel has “a lot of experience in trauma,” whereas in Vietnam there is a real need for improved trauma medical activities. He said he hopes that professionals from Rambam will be able to visit Vietnam and further train on the trauma system.

Michaelson said Rambam has helped develop medical systems in multiple nations. “In all kinds of countries we try to show them our way and they should adapt it to their system, so it’s quite exciting going there seeing that they did something with the knowledge,” said Michaelson, who notes that even beginnings are “important.”

While Israel has tragically had to deal with many trauma and mass casualty scenarios in its history, Michaelson notes that experience can be put to something good.

“Israel, regretfully, has a long history of dealing with this and a lot of experience, and we thought that this experience can be valuable to other countries.”

The Israeli official said MASHAV wants to share experience, while also seeking to show Israel is more than just the conflict in the news—including in Indonesia. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, you build it one brick on top of the other brick, and slowly, slowly you kind of form from a bottom-up approach,” said the official. “And you bring about an impact that will make Israel be seen in a much more positive way…

“Israel is not just the stuff you see on the headlines and newspapers and breaking news, but rather the headlines are state-of-the-art technology and know-how and breakthroughs: in this case in the medical sector.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, November 22, 2011)