Tikkun Olam, which translates into English as repairing or fixing the world, is a concept that the Jewish people strongly believe in. Thus, Israel, as the world’s only Jewish state, has always sought to do every thing in her ability in order to provide humanitarian assistance to other countries in need. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, believed “the principles of mutual assistance and equality should also constitute the basis for international relations between people… and must be based on the solidarity of all human beings, derived from fraternity and mutual assistance in every sphere of life – the economic, social and scientific.”
In 1956, after Golda Meir visited Africa, Golda Meir was deeply moved by the problems facing the newly founded African nations and sought for Israel to assist them with healthcare problems, malnutrition, the status of women, the struggle for resources, agricultural development, and educational enrichment. Soon after Golda Meir’s return trip to Israel, MASHAV was founded so that Israel could share with developing countries Israeli expertise in a variety of areas.
Thus, in 1958, Israel adopted an official humanitarian agenda as a core principle of the country’s international cooperation efforts within the international community. Since 1958, Israel has provided humanitarian assistance to over 140 different countries across the globe. One of the types of help offered is medical. For example, since 1959, Israeli eye-doctors have been sent throughout the developing world to treat preventable blindness and ocular disease. These Israeli doctors usually bring with them extensive eye-equipment not available so easily within the given country, thus helping many people living within developing countries to restore their eye-sight who otherwise would not have the means to do so.
In 1977, Israel granted political asylum to about 200 refugees from Vietnam who had fled from Saigon. One of these refugees, Hoiami Nguyen, had escaped from a communist prison camp with nothing but the clothes on his back to the safety of Israel. The communist regime in Vietnam frequently tortured its opponents. The Vietnamese people living in Israel were granted citizenship and they serve in the Israel Defense Forces, alongside other Israeli citizens. Most Israelis of Vietnamese origin live in the Gush Dan area, while others live in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Ofakim.
This was not the only instance where people from conflict zones were able to receive political asylum in Israel. Around 100-200 people from Bosnia, Kosovo, Kurdistan, and North Korea were absorbed into Israel as well. Most of them were given Israeli residency status and currently reside in Israel to date. In addition, 16,000 refugees from the Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast also reside and work within the Jewish state at this moment in history.
In addition to accepting political refugees into her borders and offering routine assistance to developing countries, since the 1980’s, Israel has also assisted other countries with humanitarian relief in the wake of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and atrocities caused by conflict. For example, in 1994, Israeli medical teams were sent to help Rwandan refugees in Zaire. In 1999, Israel provided humanitarian assistance to Turkish earthquake victims, and in 2001, Israel sent humanitarian assistance to earthquake victims in India. In 2005, an Israeli relief team was sent to Sri Lanka, to help the survivors of a great tsunami. In more recent times, Israel donated 5 million dollars to assist the victims of Darfur’s genocide and has been attempting to assist the victims of Assad’s democide against his own people.
Furthermore, in 2010 Israel rushed to set up a field hospital Haiti after a devastating earthquake struck there and in 2011 set up a field hospital in Japan after it was struck by a Tsunami. These are but a small sample of ways in which the Jewish state has demonstrated her commitment to Tikkun Olam within the last 65 years, yet offer a glimpse of the values that Israel stands for.
Watch this video to see CNN coverage of Israel’s field hospital in Haiti which was an island of medicine and healing amidst chaos.
By Rachel Avraham