A first for IsraAID

After 22 years and 62 countries, now our help is needed at home

Last Saturday morning, like countless other Israelis, I sat glued to the news and watched unimaginable scenes unfolding. The scope of this humanitarian crisis is unlike anything we have seen in Israel for many decades. At the time of writing, over 1,000 Israelis have been killed, over 2,700 have been injured and thousands more have been evacuated from their homes. 

Already by Sunday it was clear that IsraAid, the international humanitarian aid organization that I lead, would for the first time launch a large-scale response in Israel. 

Never did I think we would have to look at pictures and maps of my homeland to assess disaster relief as our team has done countless times before.

For 22 years and in 62 different countries, IsraAid has been bringing support and expertise from Israel to the world’s most vulnerable communities. We arrive after disasters — from earthquakes to hurricanes, to mass displacement and conflicts — to help communities as they recover and build a more resilient future. We go wherever we’re needed, and we stay for as long as it takes.

I have led many humanitarian missions over my career. I have stood on the border of Afghanistan, facilitating the evacuation of vulnerable Afghans right after the fall of the Taliban; and on the beaches of Lesbos, Greece, working with our medical teams to save the lives of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. I have helped rescue survivors of the Gorkha earthquake in Nepal, and supported frontline workers fighting the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. As an organization, we are currently responding to many conflicts and emergencies around the world: from our work in South Sudan since the country’s founding in 2011; to the ongoing war in Ukraine, where we launched our largest scale emergency operation to date; to our ongoing response to last month’s devastating earthquake in Morocco. 

In all of these situations, and many more, we have been privileged to bring Israeli expertise to support communities in their darkest moments. We have seen the difference that prompt, well-coordinated, cooperative aid can make in the lives of communities and learned to support others as they discover the resilience to build back better and stronger. 

Working in Israel has never been our mandate as an international aid group, but now it seems that here is where we are desperately needed. The methodologies we have brought to communities experiencing crisis worldwide can now make a real difference at home, strengthened by years of global experience and the input of colleagues and communities from around the world. 

Many amazing, capable and impressive organizations and volunteer groups are working to help evacuees and vulnerable communities in Israel, and we do not intend to duplicate efforts. We have unique expertise in emergency response, psychosocial support and coordination of humanitarian aid; and in this moment of extreme crisis it is our responsibility to offer our support wherever it is needed. 

The scale of this crisis demands that we have all hands on deck and do everything we can to meet the needs of affected communities. IsraAid is built to deal with a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe, and somehow deal with many of them at the same time. Our local teams, highly trained teams around the world will continue to focus on the disasters in their regions. 

As in every place we work, our goal is to strengthen local communities and help them build their capacity. We work together with the organizations on the ground to support the most vulnerable communities and coordinate humanitarian efforts. In this case, we are looking to support the residents of the south who suffered the worst atrocities. We are establishing child-friendly spaces to help children process what they’ve been through, relieve stress and have some semblance of structure. We are providing psychosocial support to parents and families in the evacuation centers and making sure they have access to psychological first aid. We will train grassroots volunteers to support the community — and this includes guidance on self-care and burnout prevention, because we know that those helping others often need support in themselves. As the situation develops, we will update our plans to make sure we are meeting needs on the ground and making a tangible difference. 

Every humanitarian response is unique and challenging in its own right, but none of them have ever, quite literally, hit so close to home. We are devastated by the situation that is unfolding, but we are proud of our team members both Israeli and international to bring our experience back to communities going through crisis in Israel

Yotam Polizer is Global CEO of IsraAid.