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Feeding Palestinians…and Israelis

The war that Hamas started on October 7, 2023 is taking a terrible toll on noncombatants. Palestinians in Gaza, as well as a wide swath of Israelis, are suffering from hunger. The international community has galvanized to feed hungry Gazans. Israel, however, is on its own in addressing its population’s food insecurity.

Moreover, despite suffering widespread poverty and hunger within its own borders, Israel has dedicated substantial resources to feeding Gazans. Since October 7, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has been working day and night to facilitate delivery of thousands of giant aid trucks loaded with food, medicine, fuel and other essentials to Gaza. Unfortunately, much of that aid has been stolen by Hamas for its combat forces. As a result, this may be the first war in human history in which one side literally feeds and supplies the other.

Several countries, including France, the Netherlands, and Jordan, have also begun air-dropping tons of food and medicine directly into Gaza. King Abdullah of Jordan and his daughter, Princess Salma, have personally participated in these flights – all of which were approved by and coordinated with the Israeli military. Needless to say, not one country has air-dropped food or medicine into Israel.

The slaughter of October 7 in Israeli communities near Gaza, and Hezbollah’s incessant terrorist rocket attacks on communities in northern Israel, displaced about 250,000 Israelis from their homes. The war also required Israel to call up hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers, disrupting their employment and childcare, and decimating the country’s economy. Food insecurity in Israel, already a problem before the war, has worsened dramatically.

75% of the produce in Israel comes from farms in the regions hit hardest by the war.  After Hamas murdered dozens of Thai farm workers and abducted dozens more on October 7, the King of Thailand ordered the remaining Thai workers to return home.  Further, many of the farms became closed military zones anyway. As a result, vast amounts of produce have simply rotted in the fields.

I am very proud to serve on the Board of Directors of American Friends of Leket Israel, the US fundraising arm for Leket Israel, one of the largest food rescue organizations in the world. Leket Israel is, at its core, a logistics organization, finding and rescuing healthy food that would otherwise go to waste, and delivering it to about 300 non-profit partners (e.g., soup kitchens and shelters) that feed hungry people all over Israel. Leket Israel’s beneficiaries – over 300,000 people who eat food rescued by Leket Israel every week – represent the full cross-section of Israeli society: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze, Bedouin.

Under ordinary circumstances, the single largest source of food rescue in Israel is the agricultural community. Farmers who find themselves with excess crops for any reason (e.g., if market prices drop below the level at which they can make a profit, or if this this year’s apples grew too small to meet supermarket aesthetic standards) notify Leket Israel, which collects the produce that would otherwise go to waste. In just the first nine months of 2023, before the war, Leket Israel rescued over 60 million pounds of produce and delivered it to hungry people.

Leket Israel also rescues over 2 million hot meals every year from army bases, corporate cafeterias, and hotels, and delivers these nutritious meals to non-profits that feed needy people the same day or the next day, while the food remains fresh and delicious.

The beauty of food rescue lies in its leverage. The cost of rescuing food is a fraction of the cost of buying it. As a result, in Leket Israel’s hands, $1 delivers more than $5 worth of food to those who need it most. This economic advantage is the reason that food rescue organizations around the world have turned to Leket Israel for guidance and training. Leket Israel is truly a “light unto the nations.”

October 7 changed everything for us. Farms became inaccessible, agricultural workers to harvest crops were not available, and army bases and corporate cafeterias closed. Leket Israel swung into action and showed incredible flexibility and creativity, immediately developing new solutions: supporting its farmer partners by recruiting thousands of volunteers to harvest produce and making low-interest loans to farmers to ensure that next year’s crops are planted; purchasing over 500,000 hot meals since hot meal rescue had become impossible; distributing over 30,000 sustenance packages to families in conflict regions; and providing over 10,000 prepaid debit cards to poor families and farmers to help get them through the worst period of the war. Increased support from our donors was and remains critical to achieving these incredible results.

When I first got involved with Leket Israel several years ago, I shared with its founder, Joseph Gitler, my dream that someday we would partner with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Food rescued in Israel could be consumed by Palestinians in those areas, and vice versa. After all, hunger knows no geographic boundaries, so neither should the solutions to hunger. While my dream seems far away in the wake of the war that Hamas and Hezbollah have unleashed on Israel, I am not giving up. Leket Israel’s history of creativity, innovation and resilience gives me confidence that, someday, we will find appropriate partners and figure out how to make food rescue part of the overall solution to peace in the Middle East.

About the Author
Michael Rader is an attorney who focuses on patent and intellectual property litigation. Mike serves on the Board of Directors of American Friends of Leket Israel (which supports Israel’s National Food Rescue Organization, Leket Israel) and on the Board of Directors of Tzohar Israel Foundation (which supports Israel’s leading Modern Orthodox rabbinic organization, Tzohar). He and his family reside in the New York area.
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