Jewish Journal

Q&A: Israeli non-profit group “IsraAID” helps Iranian refugees

Yotam Polizer, Co-CEO of IsraAID.

In the past few weeks I had the rare opportunity to interview Yotam Polizer, who heads the Israeli non-profit organization “IsraAID” to discuss how his group has been aiding Iranian and other Muslim refugees who have fled their countries to the Greek islands for a better life. The group founded in 2001, is also a non-governmental organization committed to providing life-saving disaster relief and long term support. Their teams of volunteer professional medics, search and rescue squads, post-trauma experts and community mobilizers, have been first on the front lines of nearly every major humanitarian response during the last near two decades. Whether aiding survivors of Nepal’s 2015 massive earthquake, Houston’s flood victims of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 or victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, IsraAid’s volunteers have unselfishly helped humanity’s most vulnerable during their times of greatest suffering.

What is truly remarkable about IsraAid is the fact that it is an Israeli non-profit is seeking to help Iranian refugees in distress while at the same time the Iranian regime is seeking to attack Israeli civilians through its terror proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. At a time when the Iranian regime has no desire to hep its own people, decent human beings in Israel do genuinely care about average Iranians and are doing more to help them.

The following is a portion of my conversation with Polizer…

Why does your non-profit organization in Israel do this type of humanitarian work in support of refugees fleeing war-torn areas and also victims of natural disasters? Why do you care?

We feel this is our responsibility as humans and as Israelis , both Jews and Arabs to support the most vulnerable in times of crisis.

Can you please share with us what percentage of the refugees you have helped are of Iranian or Afghan Muslim background? And what type of support are they receiving from your group?

Approximately 30 percent of the refugees we help are either Iranians or Afghans. We are provided them with medical support, education as far as schooling for children, trauma counseling, leadership and job training.

You are a non-profit based in Israel, the Jewish state. How do you respond to Iranian Muslims or other non-Jews who ask why you have a desire to help Muslims who do not share the same religion as you?

IsraAID’s mission and vision is to save lives of every human being and also to build bridges between Israel, the Jewish community and the world. This is simply the right thing to do.

Can you share with our readers what are the reactions from Iranian refugees who arrive on the Greek isle of Lesbos when your Israeli organization offers these people with medical help, food, shelter and other support?

All of the Muslim refugees we help are typically surprised to see Israeli Jews and Arabs supporting them but in 95 percent of the cases they really appreciated our support.

Helping refugees who are injured, tired, sick and hungry for many hours is very hard work. Why do Israelis of different religions volunteer for months at a time to work for your organization without any pay in these refugee camps?

Seeing the photos and footage on TV and social media of the refugees suffering on the island and no one helping them is much harder for us to experience. People who volunteer for our organization see this work as their moral responsibility to help others who have suffered from the worst atrocities a person could think of.

Please share with us what type of volunteers you have working for you and the scope of their work?

They are doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, psychologists, engineers— they are average people like you and me who come to volunteer for periods of time ranging from two weeks, to two years. They also range from all ages and backgrounds. Obviously having volunteers who have language skills such as Persian could be a great added value for us.

You are a non-profit group based in Israel. How do you receive funding for the substantial humanitarian work that you do? And does any of your funding come from the Israeli government?

Most of our funding comes from individual donors, family foundation, the World Bank, UNICEF and other relief organizations. At the moment we do not receive any funding from the Israeli government.

Is it not ironic that an Israeli humanitarian group like yourselves is helping Iranian refugees today while the Iranian regime spends billions of dollars today in trying to kill Israelis by funding terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that seek Israel’s destruction?

We help those who escaped these terrible regimes in search of a better life. They have nothing against Jews or Israelis and we have a unique opportunity to not only save lives but to also build bridges and change people’s perspectives.

Iran late last year had a horrific earthquake in the Kermanshah province and also in the past has had devastating earthquakes. If the Iranian government permitted your volunteers to help these victims, would your volunteers go to Iran on such a humanitarian mission?

First and foremost we would have to make sure our teams are totally safe, if we can 100% guarantee safety, we can consider working in any place around the globe where our support is needed.

You have Israeli Muslims and Israeli Christians who volunteer to work for free for your organization in refugee camps such as the ones on the isle of Lesbos. What is their motivation in doing so?

They believe in the mission and values of our organization and wants to help those who suffered in Syria, Iran and other places. Some of them also see this effort  as an opportunity to build bridges. One of our most dedicated staff members is a woman named Aryah, who was an Afghan refugee. She started as a volunteer for us in the refugee camp. Then she started to work for us and lead our women support group– she is really proud to be a part of IsraAID team.

What message does your organization hope to send to Iranian non-Jews who may not like Israel or may have a negative view of Israel and Israelis?

I would hope they would invest their energies in building bridges with us and we’ll be more than happy to partner with them the way same as we did with other Muslim communities in the US and globally.