Guest Columnist: An Israeli Peace Corps?

Guest Columnist An Isra

October 22, 2009 12:28
4 minute read.
typhoon relief aid phillipines 248.88

typhoon relief aid phillipines 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

Since 1958, Israel has provided humanitarian and development aid to countries in need through Mashav, the National Agency for International Development Cooperation. Mashav's projects are diverse - from eye camps to treat preventable blindness in Nepal, Uzbekistan, Tonga and Mauritania to humanitarian aid and medical outreach programs in Congo, Cameroon, Tanzania and Chile. Closer to home, Mashav supports economic development and improved agricultural production in Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. In recent years, organizations like Israaid, Latet, Save a Child's Heart and Israel Flying Doctors have formed, supplementing government efforts with those of civil society and individual citizens seeking to become more personally involved in humanitarian and development aid efforts. This is a positive and growing trend and the government is in a position to acknowledge it by expanding its existing humanitarian and development aid programs coordinated by Mashav. In doing so, it will be joining countries like the US, Canada, Australia and almost all Western European countries who devote substantial resources to development aid. Although Israel's financial resources are less than these nations, they are sufficient to allow for increased investment in such projects. Moreover, the country's human, technical, and educational resources are extensive and can make significant contributions to countries seeking development assistance. THERE IS a significant trend in the Jewish world toward increased engagement with global development and humanitarian aid efforts. Organizations like the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee have expanded their non-sectarian aid programs in recent years. The Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda is an example of their efforts. It brings together the best of the Jewish and Israeli communities' resources and skills to the heart of Africa to aid orphans who survived the 1994 genocide of the Rwandan Tutsis and to aid other impoverished Rwandan orphans in a holistic rehabilitative setting. Modeled on the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Haifa, and with training and educational exchanges with Yemin Orde staff - particularly its Ethiopian staff - the village aims to empower Rwandan orphans to heal, rebuild their lives, pursue education and become active contributing members to Rwandan society. Under the leadership of Ruth Messinger, the American Jewish World Service has grown exponentially, energizing the American Jewish community to act on Judaism's moral imperative to pursue justice and compassion. Its extensive volunteer opportunities in Asia, Africa and Latin America have enriched the American Jewish community, inspired Jewish youth to reexamine and reengage with Judaism's moral and spiritual teachings and to act upon Judaism's call to uphold the rights and welfare of the widow, the orphan, the vulnerable and the stranger. Israeli organizations, like Tevel B'Tzedek, which bring Israelis to volunteer their skills in Nepal, share the same ethical and action-oriented commitment and global vision. Beyond expanding Mashav and increasing its budget, the government should democratize its humanitarian aid programs so they are more accessible to Israeli citizens. It should extend opportunities to adult citizens to serve, upon completion of their army/national service requirements, as volunteers abroad on humanitarian and development projects. Israel needs its own dedicated humanitarian and development volunteer corps, modeled on the US Peace Corps, that will widen participation in aid efforts. This will enable thousands of Israelis to serve abroad, enriching their own knowledge and experience of other peoples and cultures and simultaneously contributing to increased understanding of Israeli values and culture. Such opportunities should be open to adults of all ages who are able to volunteer and contribute of their skills, not only to youth. The US Peace Corps welcomes participants in their 20s and 30s, but also has volunteers who are nearing and post retirement. There is an increasing and unsatiated thirst in the global Jewish community for opportunities to act in a global context. It transcends denominational affiliations and exists across the Jewish community, in the US, Israel, Europe and beyond. ISRAEL IS uniquely positioned to create opportunities for Jews from around the world to contribute to its development aid efforts and to become a central element of a contemporary Jewish world that is increasingly invested in and engaged with some of the greatest global moral and social challenges of our time: combating global poverty and malnutrition, improving access to medical care and expanding educational opportunity to children and youth, especially to girls and marginalized minorities. Israel has demonstrated for decades that it is able to address these issues successfully through the specialized efforts of a government agency. But it can and should do even more, linking Mashav's work to efforts to build ties between the Diaspora community and Israel through the bridge of a shared commitment to humanitarian engagement. Just as Israel provides opportunities for Diaspora youth to volunteer on kibbutzim and in development towns, it should invite them to join with their Israeli counterparts on humanitarian projects which would provide a complementary experience of participating in global development efforts. Let us redouble our efforts to share our knowledge, experiences and resources to bring to the world beyond the borders of Israel and the Jewish community a measure of justice, kindness and solidarity. In doing so we will find that we will also strengthen the bonds and values that unite us as Jews and that link Israel with the global Jewish community. The writer served as an intern with the Office of the Prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and advocates for the human rights of genocide survivors, indigenous peoples, street children and the economically disadvantaged in the developing world.

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