How philanthropy can help meet the needs of Israelis still displaced by war

One of the authors of a new paper by the Taub Center, an Israeli social policy think tank, explains how civil society can supplement the work of the government on behalf of evacuees

Following the unparalleled brutality of the Oct. 7 massacres and the outbreak of war in both Gaza and Lebanon, Israel has found itself in another unprecedented situation, with a massive population of displaced people, scattered among hotels, hostels and other temporary housing solutions across the country.

Over 125,000 people have been given evacuation orders by the government, meaning they would be compensated for their housing and some other expenses, while tens of thousands more fled on their own, mostly from communities just beyond the official evacuation zones.

Nearly two months later, many of these people remain displaced by government order at least through the end of the year, while others have lost that official status, notably residents of Ashkelon, located some six miles from the northern Gaza border, who were instructed to return to their homes on Wednesday.

While they are farther from physical danger, those still displaced face significant challenges, living in hotels and other makeshift solutions, which are not designed for long-term habitation. (In some cases, whole families with multiple children are staying in single hotel rooms.) Full-time educational frameworks may not be available. Adults may not be able to work, at least not in their normal, full-time positions. 

According to the Taub Center, one of Israel’s leading social policy think tanks, these situations can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness and domestic violence. “As time passes, the likelihood of these dangerous situations increases and is liable to occur even among those who have never before experienced high-risk social situations,” according to a new report by the think tank that was released this week.

The paper, “Uprooted in their country: How to assist communities that have been evacuated from their homes,” was written by researcher Romy Volokh and John Gal, who is chair of the welfare policy program at the Taub Center and a professor of social work and social welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It examines the challenges facing evacuees and makes recommendations to policy makers on how to best address them. (The full 21-page paper is available only in Hebrew; an English summary is available here.)

This week, eJewishPhilanthropy spoke with Gal to see how his and Volokh’s research regarding the role of government could be applied to philanthropy and civil society.

Judah Ari Gross: Most of the recommendations are directed toward government and local authorities. I’d be interested to hear about the role that philanthropy and nonprofits can play in this as well.

John Gal: Well, I can say that there are immediate needs, which philanthropy and civil society have been dealing with since the war began. And they played a major role, certainly in the first two weeks before the government really got more engaged in dealing with those needs. And so that role continues. 

But I think what we have to think about is what role can philanthropy and civil society play in dealing with needs after war ends. And obviously, there certainly will be a major role. The government has set up the Tekuma Authority, which is trying to think about reconstruction on the Gaza border, mainly in the kibbutzim and the other communities that were destroyed or very severely affected. 

Obviously, in the kibbutzim and places like Sderot that were directly affected, there will be a lot of needs. And certainly, the government won’t be able to deal with all of them, and you can think of ways in which philanthropy can help out. But also, I want to mention, the communities that were [not directly hit by attacks from Gaza but were] already suffering before the war will have a greater problem after the war, both because of the war and because we are in a difficult economic situation, and many of the government resources will only be devoted to the communities that were directly affected. 

So I think there needs to be strategic thinking about where to focus [philanthropic] support after the war, and I think that will also have to take into account the communities that were not directly affected.

JAG: What parts of your report also apply to civil society? For example, you and Vololkh recommend including evacuees and their communities in the decision-making process. I imagine that’s also good practice for philanthropies and for nonprofits as well. 

JG: Some of the communities may take two or three years before they can go back to their own communities. So, in the meantime, there will be an issue of material needs that philanthropy could play a major role in. Philanthropy could be looking at supporting employment programs, which are crucial for these evacuees, and supporting different sorts of psychosocial support for these communities and working with the communities to help them organize. And also working in the communities to try and help develop resilience on a community level, which is really crucial, particularly in the communities that were directly affected by the war. 

One other thing that we noted in this report is the idea that we have to look at different sorts of needs and people with different needs or groups of people with different needs. So single parents with children are one group; people who went through major trauma are another group; the elderly are another group. These groups also have to have services which are specifically appropriate to their needs. I think people [providing] initial welfare [services] know the way to respond to these needs, but very often they don’t have enough resources to deal with them.