Love Thy Neighbor, Now More Than Ever

Volunteers checking new supplies at Gaza Health Center - Photo © 2020 Friend Ships
Volunteers checking new supplies at Gaza Health Center - Photo © 2020 Friend Ships

Gearing up to help Gazan civilians

While today’s headlines seem focused on only two topics: politics and the pandemic, we may lose sight of the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our doorstep. Gaza: Still there, and still in dire straits. Have you been sitting home wondering how you can help? Here’s your chance. If you are a foreign resident* and you can volunteer to serve for 3 weeks or more, please read on. *Currently only non-Israeli citizens may apply due to security restrictions – more on this below.

If this COVID 19 business has taught us anything, it is that we are one world – connected for better or for worse. So we might as well make it for the better. Yes, this ‘one world’ message may sound a bit trivial. Internet memes, zoom choruses and celeb tweets all parrot the same thing. How many times have we heard ‘we’re all in the same boat’ over the past 2 months? But there’s a reason that some messages get stated over and over: They are fundamental and they are true.

For some people this ‘one world’ message is not new. For instance, take the NGO, NATAN International Humanitarian Aid. For the past 16 years, NATAN has been quietly living out this ethos. NATAN was founded in 2004, named for famed Israeli peace activist and humanitarian, Abie Nathan. The founders made a tiny spelling change in order to encompass the double meaning: the Hebrew word ‘natan’ is about giving.  Since its founding, NATAN has completed many disaster relief operations around the globe, including Nepal, Haiti, Mozambique, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Since 2015 NATAN has dedicated several operations to helping refugees in Greece, Serbia and on the Syrian border. Have you heard of the School of Peace on the island of Lesbos? Yes, the one they call ‘the Israeli school for refugees’. NATAN founded it over 3 years ago, together with Hashomer Hatzair, Ajyal and a Swiss partner.

And now NATAN is gearing up to provide medical aid and mental health support in Gaza. NATAN has been selected to run several clinics as part of the Gaza Health Center now being built by an American NGO, Friend Ships. NATAN’s collaboration with Friend Ships began in 2018, when NATAN provided medical and dental care to Syrian civilians at Camp Ichay on the Syrian side of the Golan border.

The new Gaza Health Center, located close to the Erez Crossing, is scheduled to begin operating soon on a 10-acre area of land in the no-entry zone between Israel and Gaza. Both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, support this program. This initiative is part of the truce agreement negotiated between Israel and Hamas under Egyptian auspices. Israel’s government agreed to the Hamas demand for a field hospital to be operated by a third party. The health center will be operated by the American NGO, Friend Ships, built with funds from the State of Qatar.

Friend Ships has committed to the Health Center’s operations for ten years, providing Family Medicine, Pediatrics, OB/Gyn, Maternity services, Ophthalmology, Dental, Physical Therapy, and Mental Health. Professional NGOs will provide the aid while Friend Ships is responsible for general logistics. The staff will enter the camp from Israel (Erez Crossing) and the patients from the Palestinian side through an individual checkpoint.

Due to current official regulations, only people who do not hold Israeli passports will be allowed to enter the camp as aid workers. This limitation includes Israeli Arabs and Israelis who are dual citizens. The COVID 19 crisis prevents volunteers from flying to Israel. Therefore, NATAN is currently recruiting volunteers residing in Israel who do not hold Israeli citizenship. If you’d like to volunteer, please visit NATAN’s site to register:  http://www.natan-iha.org/join-us .

Why Gaza? Why now? One of NATAN’s guiding principles is Tikkun Olam, healing the world. Now, more than ever, the world needs healing.  As a global humanitarian organization, NATAN is dedicated to helping people outside of Israel’s borders. And right across the fence, along Israel’s own borders there are people in dire need. These people are our neighbors. None of us are planning on going away. So reaching out to help is the pragmatic thing to do. The Gaza Health Center aims to ease the humanitarian situation of a population which has been fragile for years. This has led the Gazan community to desperation and the resultant extremism and violent protest. The health center’s operators firmly believe that this project will serve to calm the region by enabling all participants to see each other as human beings, not faceless enemies.

Full disclosure: I am a proud member of the NATAN family, along with hundreds of other dedicated volunteers, ready to act when needed while working at our day jobs to pay the bills.  Working out of donated office space, with no paid staff and little to no overhead, NATAN spends 94% of its funds on its field operations. All personnel are unpaid volunteers and there is no governmental funding.

Interested in volunteering or learning more? Please visit NATAN’s site:  http://www.natan-iha.org/join-us .

About the Author
Nili Bresler is a trainer and business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, she was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. In her spare time, she manages communications for the non-profit, NATAN International Humanitarian Aid. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives happily in Ramat Gan.
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