Israel was one of the first countries to send a team of disaster management experts, mental health experts, and engineers to Houston after hurricane Harvey hit last week. This team, sent by IsraAID, is working together with local authorities and is seeking to provide emergency assistance to those in need and to help rebuild the community of Houston, TX.
Even though just the size of New Jersey, Israel has achieved acclaim all over the world with its humanitarian aid efforts. With the advent of the modern Jewish state in 1948, Israel set its course to embrace its biblical history of charity, “repairing the world,” known in the Hebrew language as “Tikkun Olam.” Isaiah 1:16–17 sums it up: “Devote yourself to justice, aid the wronged, uphold the rights of the orphan, defend the cause of the widow.” This value permeates Israeli society which transports Tikkun Olam to nations in need.
Several agencies oversee Israel’s world impact including MASHAV, established in 1957 under Prime Minister Golda Meir. As an arm of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, MASHAV runs Israel’s official humanitarian assistance program. MASHAV’s training courses have impacted the lives of millions living in poor nations by enabling 270,000 participants from 132 nations to return to their countries to improve agriculture, medicine, water, and other necessities.
IsraAID, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, focuses on disasters and long-term support. Since its establishment in 2001, it has been on the ground in nearly every major humanitarian crisis in the 21st century. Their civilian and Israel Defense Force personnel, including medics, doctors, search and rescue teams, and post trauma experts, often arrive in the earliest days of a disaster.
For example, when Haiti’s 2010 earthquake hit, IsraAID’s team was the first on the scene, saving thousands of lives. They set up a world-class field hospital recently named in a ceremony by the World Health Organization as “the number one in the world.” At the time, The New York Times reported, “Years of dealing with terrorist attacks, combined with an advanced medical technology sector, have made Israel one of the nimblest countries in disaster relief.” IsraAID has helped in 140 countries.
Israel even reaches out to its enemies in overt and covert ways. Ziv Hospital located in the northern Israeli town of Tzfat has treated more than 2,000 seriously wounded Syrians who make it to the Syria/Israel border.
In another fascinating outreach, Israeli humanitarian aid volunteers undertake dangerous missions from Israel into Syria to deliver medicines, food, and other necessities to hundreds of thousands of desperate Syrians. They secretly go to countries without diplomatic ties to Israel.
One of its leaders describes their work: “We are a group of Israeli citizens who love their homeland and believe in a Jewish tradition and culture that values compassionate, open-minded respect for the sanctity of human life and dignity. We believe we are blessed to be born in a democratic country that enables its citizens to travel to challenging and dangerous places ... Israel feels a moral and ethical duty to become ‘the voice of the voiceless’ ... even among some of our toughest and cruelest enemies.”