ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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As Israel-Hamas conflict drags on, volunteerism down but still significant

New study finds diverse swath of citizenry was still donating time and money to shore up the war effort, even as weeks have passed

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Volunteers at the Rahat community center sorting goods and creating packages, October 2023. (courtesy)
Volunteers at the Rahat community center sorting goods and creating packages, October 2023. (courtesy)

Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, Israelis have been volunteering in massive numbers to help the war effort in diverse ways. More than a month into the conflict, volunteerism remained significant, but fewer citizens were donating their time, according to a survey released this week.

During the first two weeks of the conflict, 45 percent of Israel’s population engaged in some kind of volunteer activity, but by the fifth week of the war, that number had dropped to 29%, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy in Israel at the Hebrew University. By comparison during the COVID crisis, volunteering rates were around 20%.

The institute previously released a similar volunteerism survey about a month ago, which covered the first two weeks of the war, with the new survey covering the third through fifth weeks, enabling researchers to track the volunteering phenomenon as the crisis continued.

The volunteers continued to represent various streams of Israeli society, with 49% of the secular Jewish public volunteering, 41% of self-defined traditionalists, and 44% of ultra-Orthodox. About 28% of Arab Israeli citizens volunteered. As the war continued, more respondents reported being of a higher than average income, the report said.

Unlike during the COVID crisis, when younger volunteers predominated, Israel has been seeing volunteers from all age groups engage in volunteering during the war.

Especially notable in the volunteering efforts were two new fields of activity: helping with agriculture and with hasbara (pro-Israel outreach) on social media. This seems to be a unique phenomenon due to the circumstances of the war.

The other, more traditional, areas were well-represented: logistics around food and equipment, transportation of people and goods, volunteering with various security forces, aid for evacuees and disadvantaged populations, etc.

Of those volunteering, most (69%) did so in their local communities, with many also donating goods (78%) or money (53%).

A full 35% of volunteers got involved via social media and WhatsApp groups, the first time such numbers have been recorded.

“Social media platforms and digital organizing, including WhatsApp groups, have played a pivotal role in recruiting, training, and coordinating volunteers, showcasing a shift towards tech-centric volunteering methodologies,” the report said.

In many cases, the platforms already existed before the war, but were adapted toward volunteerism, such as neighborhood WhatsApp groups, groups for youth teams, and the vast networks created by the anti-judicial overhaul protest groups.

In other cases, new networks sprang up as a result of the war, such as groups dedicated to “informing and spreading stories and messages about the missing and abducted.”

The activities can have beneficial results for the volunteers as well, as 52% of volunteers reported feeling relief from fear or anxiety while volunteering, 59% reported feeling useful and engaged in meaningful activity, and 55% expressed high satisfaction in their choice.

The report concluded with a warning: “Despite the significant surge in volunteering, several challenges have emerged, including the need for professional oversight, support for volunteers facing secondary traumatization, efficient coordination, and preventing volunteer burnout.”

The authors also warned of the “rapid and significant attrition of volunteers” during emergencies and noted that the data already pointed to this trend.

War erupted between Israel and Hamas after the Hamas-led October 7 massacres, in which some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 16,000 people, most of them women and children. Those figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, and people killed as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. According to military estimates, some 5,000 Hamas members have been killed in the Gaza Strip, in addition to more than 1,000 terrorists killed in Israel during the October 7 onslaught. Approximately two civilians have been killed for every dead Hamas fighter in the Gaza Strip, senior Israeli military officials said on December 4.

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