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Israel’s humanitarian support saves and improves lives in Africa

The country’s engagement took off in the 1960s, when the Jewish nation began to provide technical assistance, particularly in agriculture, water management and health care.

Map of Africa. Credit: Pexels/Nothing Ahead.
Map of Africa. Credit: Pexels/Nothing Ahead.

Israel’s growing record of humanitarian efforts in Africa demonstrates a commitment to development and cooperation. From life-saving medical treatments to pioneering agricultural techniques, Israel’s contributions are a living legacy. These endeavors have spanned decades, showcasing the Jewish state’s dedication to addressing challenges and driving positive change across the African continent.

Decades of Progress

A group of business, religious, community and political leaders called the Africa Leadership Summit meets every two years in Israel. The goal of the conference is “to follow Israel’s example in establishing sustainable development programs driven by both the private and public sector in every African community,” said the president of the Summit. “Beyond the allure of technological marvels, it’s the genuine relationships with the visionaries behind them that truly matter.”

Israeli groups, including government initiatives, charitable organizations and companies, work in tandem with locals to help them improve their skills while also providing long-term mentorship. Israeli experts consulted with local leaders in South Africa to improve water management. One local mayor praised the efforts: “The Israeli delegation offers an important opportunity for South Africa and Israel to work together to help solve these issues.”

“Israel holds a special place in our hearts,” a representative of Millennium Cities Initiative of Ghana and West Africa shared after Israeli neonatologists helped local doctors lower the mortality rate of newborns in Ghana.

The Israeli prime minister recently hosted the Zambian president and discussed increasing bilateral cooperation in innovation, agriculture and food security. They also explored ways to encourage expanded Israeli investment in Zambia and make Israeli knowledge more accessible to advance relations between the two countries.

The Rwandan government and an Israeli irrigation company built an agribusiness hub to improve food security on land that wasn’t previously suitable for farming. A Rwandan representative spoke about how this “irrigation infrastructure allows farmers to have reliable access to water throughout the year, leading to increased crop yields and a more stable agricultural environment.”

Innovation: Africa, founded 15 years ago by Israeli Sivan Ya’ari, is an organization that donates Israeli solar, water and agricultural technologies to schools and medical centers. The nonprofit group has supplied safe and clean water and solar energy to more than 4 million people in rural communities across 10 African countries. Ya’ari described how she is “motivated most by the smiles on the faces of mothers as they open the taps of clean water, and the faces of the children as they switch on a light for the first time.”

A Long History of Strong African-Israeli Cooperation

Israel officially adopted a humanitarian aid agenda in 1958 as an integral part of the state’s international cooperation efforts after then-Foreign Minister Golda Meir’s visit to Africa. The Israeli government’s first project was setting up “eye camps” to treat preventable eye diseases. Since then, Israel has provided humanitarian assistance to more than 140 countries worldwide.

Israel’s engagement in Africa took off in the 1960s. The Jewish nation began to provide technical assistance, particularly in agriculture, water management and health care. Israelis living in the Negev Desert used their experience of turning arid land into productive fields, sharing their agricultural expertise to help African nations boost food production and improve farming practices. Water scarcity being a common challenge in both regions, Israel’s pioneering drip irrigation technology proved invaluable in enhancing water efficiency and crop yields.

Charities and NGOs also have been at the forefront of delivering humanitarian aid and community development programs. IsraAID has been actively involved in emergency response, psychological support and infrastructure building across the continent. Such efforts have contributed not only to immediate relief but also to sustainable development and empowerment of local communities. Organizations like Save a Child’s Heart have conducted life-saving surgeries for children from various African countries, transcending political, cultural and religious boundaries to save lives and enhance healthcare capacities.

Israel’s humanitarian aid reaches beyond Africa. Recently, Pakistani and Israeli doctors worked together to save the eyesight of Afghani children and Israeli search and rescue specialists assisted with rescue efforts in Hawaii. Israeli military technology and expertise were pivotal in the Florida condo building collapse, and Israeli soldiers and aid workers provided earthquake relief across the world, including Haiti, Mexico and Indonesia. At home, an Israeli hospital went all out to celebrate a young Palestinian girl’s birthday while she was undergoing cancer treatment.

Points to consider:

1. Israeli actions are guided by Jewish values.

“Do not stand by at your neighbor’s blood. Witnessing his death, and you are able to rescue him.”— Leviticus 19:16

Rashi, the most influential Jewish Bible commentator of the Middle Ages, interpreted this to mean that it is imperative to aid in the rescue of those whose lives face mortal danger. This verse is part of the established ethical and moral laws for the Israelites. The command not to harm a neighbor’s life is a reminder of the value of human life and the importance of preserving it. This verse is a reminder to treat others with kindness and to not stand idly by when lives can be saved. The Talmud states: “Whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the whole world.”

2. Israeli aid is unconditional: nationality, religion and ethnicity do not matter.

The heart of Israel’s humanitarian aid lies in its unconditional support, ensuring that aid reaches those who require it most. Despite not having diplomatic relations with Indonesia—the most populous Muslim country—Israel sent aid after its 2018 earthquake and previously signed a medical cooperation agreement. The first-ever, high-level meeting recently held between the Libyan and Israeli foreign ministers focused on Israel providing humanitarian aid, as well as agriculture and water management expertise. Israel’s humanitarian efforts embody the universal value of compassion and recognize the importance of humanitarian principles, transcending differences in times of crisis by focusing solely on providing help with no strings attached.

3. Israel is a humanitarian-aid leader.

Israel’s reputation as a humanitarian aid leader is grounded in its rapid and effective responses to emergencies. Equipped with specialized teams and advanced technologies, Israel’s aid efforts provide medical assistance, disaster relief and technical support during critical times. Despite its small size and limited financial resources, Israel has a global reputation for being among the first on the ground. By consistently demonstrating its expertise and resourcefulness, Israel plays a pivotal role in humanitarian operations, showing that effective aid is not just a matter of resources, but also of innovation, adaptability and a profound commitment to saving lives.

4. Israel is a pioneer in providing developmental assistance.

Israel’s legacy of pioneering developmental assistance is evident through its innovative programs and collaborations. By sharing expertise in agriculture, technology and education, Israel empowers nations to cultivate self-sufficiency and sustainable growth. This approach is not just about providing immediate relief but also about teaching knowledge that leads to long-term prosperity. Its most notable contribution is the modern system of drip irrigation developed by an Israeli engineer in the 1960s. Israel’s commitment to developmental assistance reflects its belief in the transformative power of knowledge and skills, fostering self-reliance and progress in partner countries.

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