As part of its routine operations, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, MASHAV, is actively involved in international development activity in over 140 developing countries worldwide. Our primary focus rests less on offering humanitarian aid and more on what the world of development refers to as capacity building, as part of our underlying philosophy that it is always better to teach a man to fish and offer him the means to fend for himself.
That being said, in light of the recent atrocities in Ukraine, MASHAV has stepped forward at full force in recent weeks to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees and civilian casualties in the war-torn country. In an effort to meet the specific needs defined by Ukraine’s civilian and health agencies, Israel immediately launched a humanitarian airlift carrying more than 100 tons of medical equipment, winter gear, and more essential basic supplies and relief items during the first few days of combat.
Moreover, Israel immediately rushed to best meet additional needs outlined by Ukraine’s healthcare authorities, including mega generators, purchased by MASHAV, which would provide a reliable supply of electricity to Ukraine’s hospitals should the need arise.
Israel, additionally, also stepped in to aid Ukrainian refugees by increasing manpower and offering additional assistance at border crossings in five adjacent countries. Numerous other Israeli relief and aid organizations also immediately volunteered to assist Ukrainian refugees and offer them numerous essential items and services ranging from medical care to mental health counseling and support, winter clothing and food.
The crown jewel of Israel’s relief efforts, however, is the unprecedented, even historic establishment of a civilian field hospital as requested by the Ukrainian authorities.
This operation is an unprecedented event for two main reasons: Israel, to date, is the only country to establish a field hospital in Ukraine, not only heeding the country’s urgent request but also coordinating this historic step with all relevant international parties and agencies. No other country has taken a similar step. This is also an unprecedented move on Israel’s part, given that the country has never attempted such an undertaking beforehand.
The IDF has established field hospitals beforehand in natural disaster settings, and so on, but never in a war-torn area. The sensitivities and intricacies involved in sending IDF soldiers in uniform to a country at war are clear and manifold, and therefore for the first time in Israel’s history a civilian field hospital was needed to be deployed.
When Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, therefore, instructed MASHAV to lead this mission, this gave rise to an unprecedented opportunity for inter-agency cooperation between government agencies, such as the MFA and the Health Ministry, NPOs, and the Sheba Medical Center, including representatives from all Israeli Hospital and Health Service Providers (Kupot Cholim). The result? A civilian field hospital was established in Ukraine in less than two weeks.
Government decision No. 1277 (dated March 14, 2022), which authorized the establishment and operation of this field hospital, clearly indicated and specified that Israel would NOT stand idly aside at this time and would deploy all necessary State resources to assist Ukraine through this singular initiative.
Indeed, in its first weeks of operation, the “Shining Star” field hospital, comprised of a staff of 70 Israeli doctors, nurses, paramedics, and EMTs has already treated thousands of Ukrainian refugees and locals, while also instructing and engaging in capacity building programs for local teams, so that at the conclusion of this mission we can leave a true Blue and White imprint when it comes to continuity of care. Incidentally, this also includes direct remote online consultation between Israeli medical personnel and their Ukrainian counterparts.
As the MFA project leader for this hospital, it fills me with pride to see Israel harnessing its medical, operational, and rapid response capabilities to launch this effective and unprecedented relief program to meet the dire and increasing needs of Ukraine’s civilian population. The Israeli people can indeed take pride in the fact that a persecuted nation of refugees that fled Europe during World War Two returns to Europe now able to offer others a helping hand.
The writer is deputy head of MASHAV (Israel’s Agency for International Development and Cooperation) at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the project manager of Shining Star field hospital on behalf of the MFA.