Punching Above Our Weight

Israel on the frontline of support and rescue in a time of disaster.

By Rolene Marks

If we measured countries in weight according to their size, Israel could be determined to be a flyweight, at the very most a bantam weight. Boxing metaphors aside, Israel is so tiny, that it is almost impossible to find the country on a map of the world.

But when a disaster of any kind be it natural or otherwise occurs anywhere in the world, it is tiny Israel that packs a mighty punch by responding immediately where needed.

When the call goes out – and even sometimes when it doesn’t – Israel is the first to respond. This even extends to countries that Israel has no formal diplomatic ties with because humanity and helping your fellow man in a time of crisis trumps politics every time.

Israel has a long history of sending humanitarian aid and it is woven into the fabric of our society. Just ten years after the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948, the country adopted an official humanitarian aid agenda, providing vital relief to more than 140 countries.

This effort does not just come from the IDF or government resources, but also NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) such as ZAKA, IsraAid, F.I.R.S.T, United Hatzalah Latet and others and is truly remarkable – even the United Nations has recognized Israel for its contributions. Rare praise from this embittered institution!

Israel has a unique ability to dispatch search and rescue teams and field hospitals fast and effectively. Unfortunately, we have had to learn this through difficult and sometimes tragic circumstances but it has become a skill that can be used to help others in times of distress.

“We Come to Help”.  Israeli government Minister Nachman Shai (6th from the left) and the IDF search-and-rescue delegation arriving on Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Florida, to aid in recovery efforts at the building collapse. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

Called in Times of Crisis:

Since 1953, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has sent help for those in need, regardless of their location. Just this past week, a team of Home Front Command elite search and rescue soldiers departed for Miami, USA following the devastating collapse of a 12-floor apartment building, “Champlain Towers”. A short while after the news broke, Israel’s United Hatzalah’s psychotrauma team was deployed to help families and survivors cope with the profound trauma and stress of a catastrophe of this kind. Israel’s national carrier, EL AL said that they would cover the travel costs. Several days later, the Governor of Florida accepted Israel’s offer of IDF assistance and a team of ten elite search and rescue professionals including engineers, departed for Miami.

Sizing up the Situation. IDF Home Front Command delegation on site in Surfside, Miami

The scene on the ground is devastating. While the official cause has yet to be determined, the main priority now is rescue and recovery. Hope may be slim but it is still there.

Crushing Catastrophe. Workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. One hundred fifty-nine people were still unaccounted for two days after Thursday’s collapse, which killed at least four. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

I have had the immense pleasure and privilege of visiting Miami and spending a little bit of time with the Jewish community, many of whom come from South America. This is a strong, close and cohesive community, proudly Zionist and is as dedicated to Israel as they are to each other. This past week the women of WIZO USA Florida have rallied around the community of Surfside, doing as much as possible to try and help ease the burden of suffering. These exceptional women, who anxiously await news of their friends, associates and family members are working around the clock to feed and comfort the bereaved and provide nourishing kosher meals to rescue workers, sensitive to their religious dietary requirements as well as collecting necessities for those who have lost everything.

Helping Hand. Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (right) speaks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the site of a building collapse near Miami on June 27, 2021. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

Israeli teams are joining their American counterparts working day and night, trying to recover the lost loved ones for anxious families. The United States may be a juggernaut in comparison to tiny Israel and may have many resources equipped for these kinds of disasters but for Israel this is a chance to help out our greatest ally, show our love for our brothers and sisters affected and also share our tremendous, world leading skills. Our prayers and love remains with all who have been affected by this tragedy.

Wonderful WIZO. Coordinating help and aid coming in from the community for those affected by the collapse of Champlain Towers are WIZO USA Florida’s Ruthy Benoliel (left) and Judit Groisman.

Other countries where Israel has helped include Mexico, Armenia, Cambodia , Pakistan, Haiti, Nepal, Romania, Argentina, Croatia, Kenya, Turkey, Democratic Republic of Congo and more.

Humanitarian aid in time of war

Every couple of years (and as recent as May this year), Israel seems to be embroiled in another flare up with Hamas in the neighbouring Gaza strip. As rockets and mortars fall on Israel and we defend our civilian population with retaliatory strikes on military targets, so we also ensure that much needed humanitarian aid continues to enter the beleaguered strip. During this recent flare up, humanitarian convoys were fired on with mortar shells but this did not stop them coming through. Israel continues to maintain a humanitarian corridor and works closely with the United Nations and necessary authorities and NGO’s on the ground, despite an ongoing precarious security situation.

Israel has sent much needed Covid-19 assistance as well as medicines, food, perishable good, fuel and other necessities.

Friends in Deed. Grateful Kenyan expresses thanks for  the help Israel sent that country in a time of crisis.

Tikkun Olam

Theodore Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism had a vision for his future Jewish state. He wanted the Jewish tenet of “Tikkun Olam” (repairing the world) to be something that was synonymous with the country. In keeping with this philosophy, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has a special department called “MASHAV”, which is the Hebrew acronym for “Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation” and today there are projects all over the world, most notably on the African continent.

The work of MASHAV is to contribute to developing countries and this is done in fields where Israel has relevant expertise accumulated during its own history as a young country facing similar challenges.

Agents for Change. MASHAV trains women from around the world so they can be agents for change in their communities. (photo credit: MASHAV)

The belief is that ‘training the trainers’ and human capacity building activities are the best way to achieve maximum impact for development. Education and the transfer of skills is empowering and guarantees sustainable growth.​

​​​The seeds planted by MASHAV are bearing real fruit that will grow from generation to generation.

Saving the Children

Operation Good Neighbour

For years Syria has been embroiled in a bitter civil war that has had a devastating impact on civilians. Witnessing the shattering impact of conflict on civilians, especially children, the IDF launched “Operation Good Neighbour” with the intention of bringing civilians into Israel, at great risk to them and our soldiers, to give them access to life-saving medical attention.

Saving Syrians. Seen here in 2017, an IDF soldier feeds a Syrian baby in Israel as part of the army’s humanitarian aid program to assist Syrians impacted by the civil war in their country. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the cloak of night as battle raged around them and with no help from the UN stationed close by, Israel’s soldiers brought thousands of civilians into the country and gave them the help they needed. The IDF also helped transport members of the NGO, White Helmets and their families out of Syria and into safety in nearby Jordan.

The impact of Operation Good Neighbour will last generations as Syrians who were raised on the education of incitement that Israel is the enemy have now seen first-hand that when the world pretty much turned its back on them, it was Israel who opened her arms.

Save a Child’s Heart

Their mission is simple. Perform as many life-saving procedures on children with life-threatening heart problems. Israeli humanitarian organisation, Save a Child’s Heart, treats children suffering from congenital and rheumatic heart disease who have little access to care in their own countries.

Israel in Africa. The prestigious UN Population Award was awarded to Israel’s non-profit medical charity ‘Save a Child’s Heart’ for saving the lives of thousands of children around the world. Seen here in March 2018, an Echo Technician from Wolfson Medical Center in Israel, examining the heart of a child at the Save a Child’s Heart clinic in Zanzibar. (Nati Shohat/FLASH9)

To date, over 5000 children have been brought to Israel from nearly 60 countries where they have little or no access to the medical care that they need and given them the paediatric care they need as well as providing an in-depth outreach post-graduate training program for medical personnel from these developing countries, some who Israel has no or even hostile relations with. Countries have included Ethiopia, Iraq, at least 50% from Gaza and the West Bank, Syria, Ghana, Haiti, Rwanda, Somalia, Moldovia, Romania, Vietnam and many more.

In 2018, Save a Child’s Heart was honored with the UN Population Award, in recognition of its outstanding contributions to population and health.

Israel may be a real bantam weight in size but the tiny Jewish State knows how to deliver a knockout punch when it comes to contributing and helping the world. Size does not matter when it comes to punching above your weight – skill and the right intentions are what is needed – and appreciated.



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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