IsraAID celebrates 20 years

When a small group of Israelis arrived in Haiti within 48 hours of a devastating earthquake that struck the island nation in 2010, it was overwhelming. They had traveled 6,500 miles, while the United States, situated much closer to the disaster, would take longer days to gather and deliver humanitarian aid.

The Israelis were dispatched by IsraAID, an organization founded in 2001 that over the course of two decades has grown into Israel’s leading non-profit humanitarian aid organization. The ability to quickly mobilize trained equipment and supplies and transport them to disaster points on most continents is remarkable. It is putting into action the Jewish tradition of responding generously and compassionately to those who experience a natural disaster.

“We typically arrive on the ground within the first 72 hours to provide medical support, trauma counseling and access to clean water,” said IsraAID CEO Yotam Polizer at the group’s recent 20th anniversary celebration. in Tel Aviv.

Over the past 20 years, IsraAID has responded to a variety of crises, including earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and refugees in more than 50 countries, and is currently active in 14 countries.

What has long distinguished IsraAID from many other, often much larger, aid organizations is its commitment to staying in place long after the initial large amount of support and attention.

IsraAID delivers humanitarian aid in Puerto Rico (credit: NILY ROZIC)

“We stay in the countries for two, three, and sometimes even eight years to help communities rebuild better, to help them rebuild their lives and build community resilience,” Polizer said.

“The history of Israel is made up of little stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told the global audience in person and online participating in the anniversary celebration.

“When an Israeli doctor helps a child injured in an earthquake in Haiti, that is Israeli pride,” said Lapid. “When an Israeli team helps survivors of an earthquake-tsunami in Japan, that’s Israeli pride. When all of IsraAID’s incredible work in Afghanistan is revealed one day, it will be a great source of Israeli pride. “

Through its compassionate humanitarian work, IsraAID has also helped build and reinforce positive views of Israel as a country ready to help others. The group has reached countries, such as Iraq and Indonesia, that do not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

More recently, IsraAID was instrumental in organizing a rescue mission that evacuated more than 160 Afghans, mostly women, who faced possible violent retaliation by the Taliban, to safety in the United Arab Emirates.

American Jews can share that feeling of pride, too. My organization, American Jewish Committee (AJC), has been a partner of IsraAID since its inception and has donated to many of its relief efforts around the world.

“At the American Jewish Committee (AJC), we believe in responding whenever possible to humanitarian crises, empowering Israel in the process, and feeling secure in the expertise of response teams,” says AJC Executive Director David Harris. . “For us, that means partnering with IsraAID. They do outstanding work that saves lives, as we know from years of collaboration, and we are proud to support them. “

Several colleagues from the Paris and Jerusalem-based AJC went to the Greek island of Lesbos in 2015 to work alongside an IsraAID team in providing direct assistance to Syrian refugees arriving there in large numbers after fleeing the regime. of Assad.

For IsraAID, the 2010 Haiti earthquake experience was “a game changer,” Polizer explained. The Israeli team ended up staying in Haiti for eight years and was able to reconnect with Haitians they had previously trained when they returned to the country in August after the last earthquake.

IsraAID staff have also stayed longer in other countries, especially Japan after the massive earthquake that triggered a tsunami in 2011. Polizer led the IsraAID mission in Japan for seven years. And another team, working with victims of gender-based violence, has been in South Sudan since 2011.

More recently, the organization has taken up the fight against the crown, partnering with the Eswatini government to bring mass vaccinations to that small African nation.

“I’ve seen how being very agile, very flexible, with a small but very professional team allowed us to save lives, be there first, find very creative solutions,” said Polizer.

The dynamism and versatility of IsraAID has positively helped dozens of countries, empowering local communities to face a variety of crises and emerge safer and stronger.

“Ultimately, his work contains the essence of Israelis,” Lapid said. “You meet people in the most difficult moments of their lives, you go up to them and say:” We don’t leave anyone behind, no matter who you are, where you come from or where you are going. “

IsraAID has proven time and again that humanitarian aid is a crucial Israeli export that has an indelible global impact.

The writer is the director of media relations for the American Jewish Committee.

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