Seventy tons of sanitation items, 670 tons of food, 120 tons of basic home items and 20 tons of medication are just a sample of the aid one Israeli NGO has delivered to Syrian refugees amid the current crisis.
The mission of the nonprofit organization, which has been operating since the early 2000s, is to provide lifesaving aid to communities affected by natural disasters or human conflicts, exclusively in countries that lack diplomatic relations with Israel and places where the regime prevents the entry of conventional international humanitarian organizations.
Due to the sensitive nature of the group’s activity, which takes place under the radar in order to protect the lives of team members and local contacts, the organization will remain unnamed in this article.
“Nobody asks permission to kill. We do not ask permission to save lives,” the founder of the organization, who will be referred to as Yael, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
“We don’t care about political agendas,” she added. “We don’t work for anybody, just for our conscience.”
The NGO, Yael explained, is made up of some 1,200 Israelis who “love their homeland and have all completed military service.”
The volunteers, who come from a variety of professional backgrounds, contribute to the operations in four fields: medical, post-trauma care, mass feeding and rescue.
“We don’t come to replace the State of Israel,” she said.
“The State of Israel is helping significantly in places where it can.
We want to focus on countries that do not receive the official Israeli help. What we do is assistance from citizen to citizen.”
In light of the situation in Syria, the volunteers have been working in full cooperation with democratic secular Syrian groups that have significant presence on the ground and deliver the organization’s aid to specific places according to an agreed-on distribution map.
“We started operating about three weeks following the start of the crisis, even though back then we didn’t know the extent of the catastrophe yet,” Yael told the Post.
Through its activity, which is titled the “IL 4 Syrians” project, the organization has delivered hundreds of tons of basic food; sanitation items including soap, toothbrushes, women sanitation kits, toilet paper and tissues; vital refugee items such as insulating material, mattresses, blankets, iron sheets to build housing units and water canteens; and 300,000 dry meals, each meant to feed five people for a week.
The NGO also delivers emergency medical aid such as medication, surgical supplies and field surgery tents, designed to provide as sterile as possible an environment to perform operations.
In addition, the Israeli team has provided post-trauma care for children and women, and trained teenage boys to use digital cameras and satellite transmitters to “take shots that the media will want to see,” while teaching them to remain untraceable and out of danger.
“We believe that if the US strike takes place, Assad will use more chemical weapons,” Yael said. “We are currently fund-raising to purchase some 3,000 special protection kits for Syrian medical teams who work in field hospitals and clinics in 14 different towns in Syria.”
While it operates undercover, the organization has encountered many challenges due to the difficult situation on the ground.
“The Muslim Brotherhood there has been distributing aid at mosques, but there are some people who for certain reasons are not permitted to enter a mosque,” Yael explained. “The problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood is fighting anybody who tries to distribute aid in other ways. Some of the members of those Syrian democratic groups that we are in touch with got kidnapped and beat up for that.”
Yael added that according to her sources on the ground, the Assad regime has been cutting supplies of water in regions affected by the use of chemical weapons. Water is essential for people in those areas in order to rinse their bodies from the chemicals, she said.
Since it was founded, the organization has carried out undercover humanitarian activities in dozens of countries including Sudan, Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Iraq.
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“It’s really hard to get funds,” Yael said. “You can’t fundraise without people knowing exactly what you’re doing. It’s a challenge to get funders, Jewish funders, who are interested in Syria, agree to give up credit and remain anonymous, and who are not scared to give us money knowing that something may happen to us.”
Fear is an undeniable part of the experience for all of the volunteers, Yael said.
“We are all parents, we all have families and we all understand the consequences if we ever get in trouble,” she told the Post. “There is no smart way to deal with fear. But the choice to do this, to feel that you are in the right place at the right time and that you are helping make a significant change, is so rewarding.
“I think that for most of my volunteers, what they fear more than death is indifference,” she said.
“The belief that indifference kills is stronger than any fear.”