Beyond Images Challenging myths and presenting facts about Israel 
DISASTER RELIEF: Israeli groups coordinate their worldwide disaster relief efforts
London - published on 14 May 2003
Beyond Images Ref: 65

Click to Printclick here to print page

In recent years Israel has been involved in providing emergency relief following earthquakes and other disasters in various parts of the world such as Turkey, Russia, India, and Colombia, South America. The following report relating to these projects appeared on the website of in February 2003.

A humanitarian forum called IsraAID is helping to coordinate Israeli efforts in providing aid to disaster areas across the globe. Last week, representatives of a dozen Israeli and Jewish humanitarian organisations gathered to look at ways of pooling their respective resources in the most efficient manner.

Israel is at the forefront of worldwide efforts in providing disaster assistance whenever tragedies strike. The Israeli Army’s Home Front Command Search and Rescue Unit has participated in dozens of rescue missions in recent years, including earthquake and other disaster relief operations.

The guiding light behind the IsraAID initiative is Shahar Zahavi, a veteran relief worker at the sites of several global disasters. “I worked in a refugee camp on the Uganda-Rwanda border in 1994; I was a relief worker after Hurricane Mitch struck [in Central America]; and I went to India after the 2000 earthquake there, helping with logistics and working behind the scenes” he said.

Zahavi says that Israeli humanitarian organisations have been on alert to help around the world for some time. “When there was the big earthquake in Turkey, or there was any other type of disaster – like in Kosovo – there were always a large number of organisations from Israel who wanted to do something to help” he said.

Unfortunately, good intentions on their own simply aren’t enough, Zahavi has discovered. “What usually happened was that each organisation tried to do something and you ended up with a mess. You’d find groups working in a particular area, only to discover, a few weeks later, that others were already active in the same field.”

Realising that something needed to be done, both to avert wastage of precious resources and to disseminate the organisations’ messages to the outside world, Zahavi conceived the IsraAID forum.

“The forum has three basic premises,“ he explained. “The most important one is coordination between the various groups and pooling their resources to ensure those in need benefit from them. The second factor is to let the world know that Israelis are also willing to contribute to the world.

Our material resources may be limited, but we have a huge amount of expertise – in agriculture, rescue operations, and emergency medical assistance. There really is very little knowledge in the world about what we do.

We also want to get our message across in the countries we help. In my experience, people have responded well to us because they view our work as people helping other people, without the political element.”

Members of the IsraAID forum include the National Volunteer Council, and Bnai Brith whose director general, Alan Schneider, says he is delighted with the way the forum is working.

“We wanted to let people know we work on an international scale. It is so important to get that message out there.”

IsraAID has recently initiated a Jewish humanitarian newsletter called Tikun Olam which enables Jewish aid organisations from different parts of the globe that wish to find new ways to improve their working relationships. The newsletter is available at