“On behalf of the Israeli people, we wish to help the people of Iran,” – IsraAID head Shachar Zahavi.Israeli humanitarian organizations have said that they are determined to send aid to Iranian victims of the lethal earthquake which rocked the country last week, despite the Iranian government’s refusal to receive help from Israel.

Following the major disaster last week, Iran has officially announced that they were willing to receive help from any country except for “the Zionist entity”. The 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck on Dec. 26 at 5:30 AM, collapsing buildings in the city of Bam in southeastern Iran, severing power lines and shutting down water service. The quake’s death toll is expected to exceed 20,000, and could be as high as 40,000.

Delegates from Israeli humanitarian relief groups met two days after the earthquake in Tel Aviv, and decided to provide assistance to survivors of the earthquake. Speaheaded by IsraAID, a humanitarian forum which coordinates Israeli efforts in providing aid to disaster areas across the globe, the meeting included representatives of the Topaz organization for youth at risk, the kibbutzim humanitarian fund, the First rescue organization, and other humanitarian groups.

“We decided to channel our efforts through an international organization operating in Iran,” IsraAID director Shachar Zahavi told ISRAEL21c. They have asked the group to act as a conduit for their donation, apparently equipment such as tents and medicine. Due to the devastating scope of the earthquake damage, the Israeli relief workers believe that their assistance to Iran will continue for at least half a year.

“One result of the meeting is that all the humanitarian organizations that participated including funds, youth movements, and search and rescue teams have all convened under the umbrella of IsraAID,” said Zahavi.

The Iranian announcement rejecting assistance of any sort from Israel will require that the groups receiving assistance from Israel keep a low profile, as they work on behalf of the earthquake victims.

“We don’t deal with governments, only with people and NGOs,” said Zahavi. “No matter where it was in the world, that’s how we’d approach the situation. On behalf of the Israeli people, we wish to help the people of Iran, and from the indications we’ve received, they’re willing to accept that help.

“We’re not here to engage in provocation,” Zahavi added. “The bottom line is to give aid to needy disaster victims.”

Eran Weintrob, the general manger of Latet, another group which participated in the meeting, said, “if there are many people that are starving and injured and have no place to sleep, we don’t ask and we don’t argue and we don’t think about political issues. We just act. If we can act, we will.”

Iranian expert Menashe Amir, who heads Israel Radio´s Farsi (Persian) language radio service, which broadcasts daily news into Iran, said he had “no doubt” that the Iranian people would themselves accept aid from Israel. During the phone-in section of his program on Sunday, Amir said he received calls from Iranians responding positively to the Israeli offer of help.

“Most of the people who talked in the program thanked [Israel] warmly for offering help and criticized harshly the Iranian [regime for refusing it],” Amir told Cybernet News.

Some of the callers to the radio program, Amir said, told listeners not to send money to Iran because it is a rich country and the money would not make it to the people but could instead be funneled into the Palestinian militant cause.

The Israeli government offered condolences following the devastating earthquake in Iran, saying it had “no conflict” with the Iranian people, despite its enmity with the Islamic regime.

“The Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, addresses in the name of the Israeli Government and the people of Israel condolences to the Iranian people after the catastrophe,” the Foreign Ministry said. “The Government and people of Israel are moved by the human tragedy experienced by the Iranian people and believe that despite all differences a mobilization of the whole international community is needed to come to the help of families of the victims and wounded,” it said in a statement.

“The Iranian government said it didn’t want help from Israel or the Zionist entity. But there is a huge need and the people don’t care where they get the help from,” Latet’s Weintrob said.

The Umbrella Organization for Iranian Immigrants in Israel has contacted the Iranian Embassy in Britain regarding sending food, clothing, and other necessities. According to spokesman David Motei, the group received the go-ahead for contributions from “the Israeli people,” but not the State of Israel, sent through intermediaries such as foreign embassies and the United Nations.
Weintrob listed medicine, stoves, blankets, and food as top priorities.

“We’re trying to promote mutual responsibility in Israeli society, and we think if we want to be a strong society, even though we are experiencing a very bad situation economically right now, we should see ourselves as part of the wider world,” Weintrob told The Jerusalem Post.

Large-scale Israeli assistance following a massive earthquake in 1999 in northwestern Turkey that killed over 15,000 people, and a huge earthquake in western India in 2001 that killed some 20,000 people, helped strengthen ties between Israel and those two countries.

In 1999 Israel airlifted to Turkey doctors and equipment for a field hospital, as well an emergency rescue team comprising 250 persons, sophisticated rescue equipment, and rescue dogs. And in 2001, Israel dispatched a field hospital and some 150 people to India to assist in rescue and medical efforts following the earthquake in Bhuj. The help Israel provided in these cases is still mentioned often by Turkish and Indian officials when discussing their ties with Israel, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post.

According to IsraAID’s Zahavi, the aid that Israel provides has a long-lasting effect far beyond the initial benefit to the victims.
“There really is very little knowledge in the world about what we do. We also want to get our message across in the countries we help. In my experience, people have responded well to us because they view our work as people helping other people, without the political element.”