Israeli aid group helping to provide thousands of tents for Gazans – report

SmartAid founder Shachar Zahavi, whose organization has provided relief in conflicts all over the world, says group felt a moral obligation as Jews to also help ‘our enemies’

Palestinian children sit on a hill next to tents housing the displaced in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 30, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Palestinian children sit on a hill next to tents housing the displaced in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 30, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

An Israeli humanitarian aid group has helped provide thousands of tents to shelter Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who are fleeing the ongoing war between Israel and the terror group Hamas.

SmartAID founding director Shachar Zahavi revealed the project to the eJewish Philanthropy website in a report Tuesday, explaining that despite the moral dilemma of helping “enemies,” he felt that, as a Jew, he needed to be a part of the humanitarian effort.

SmartAID has been working in partnership with an American relief group and since January has helped build three refugee camps, he said.

“It is thousands of tents,” he said.

Zahavi declined to name the American partners to protect them, and the civilians receiving the tents, from possible punishment by Hamas.

The war erupted on October 7 when Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas and free the 253 hostages abducted by terrorists and taken hostage in Gaza.

The fighting in Gaza has displaced hundreds of thousands of residents who have fled to other areas of the enclave.

Displaced Palestinians receive food aid at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2024. (AFP)

“We have been doing this quietly for months,” Zahavi said, adding that he wants critics of Israel “to know that we are an international humanitarian aid organization, and yes, we are Israeli, and yes, helping our people, and yes, we are helping our enemies.”

“That is what Jews do,” he said, noting that during the Syrian civil war, the Israel Defense Forces quietly arranged for injured civilians to be brought to Israel for treatment.

Zahavi said his group carefully monitors deliveries to prevent the aid it is supplying from ending up in Hamas’s hands. Staff coordinate with the IDF, which has given them the names of reputable US charities that they can work with.

“We make sure we do not get involved in anything that might by mistake get into Hamas’s hands,” he said.

“I’m not doing this lightly, but there is also the Jewish side of us, the Holocaust side of us, the human side of us,” said Zahavi, who comes from a family that had few survivors of the Holocaust. “How are we going to live with everything that is going on in Gaza?”

“I felt we had to do something. I know there are a lot of groups and individuals around the world in the Jewish community who are against this and I totally understand.”

Tents and makeshift shelters at a camp for displaced Gazans in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 13, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The group has clear views on the circumstances of the war.

“As Jews, we totally demand the release of the hostages, totally demand that Hamas be held fully accountable for what it did,” said Zahavi, who explained he had close friends who were killed in the Hamas attack, and that he knows some of the hostages.

Partners that SmartAID is working with have logistics infrastructure in the Strip, Egypt and Jordan, the report said. The tents were purchased in Egypt and brought to Gaza via the crossing from that country, after first having been inspected by the IDF, which vets all deliveries to make sure arms are not being smuggled into Gaza.

The work is being funded by donations from abroad, amounting to $200,000, Zahavi said, though he would not share the donors’ details due to the sensitivity of the matter, the report said.

The idea to provide aid in Gaza came up during conversations with colleagues in other international aid organizations, as well as with Jewish and non-Jewish donors to SmartAID.

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on April 14, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Donors, he said, had pointed out that as a humanitarian charity, SmartAID has helped people all over the world and that it needs to also consider the situation in Gaza.

“We are an aid organization and we are helping around the world in 40 countries,” he said. “This is another conflict in our backyard, and so what are we going to do about it?”

Zahavi said he was prompted to reveal SmartAID’s work because of the killing earlier this month of seven World Central Food kitchen workers in an erroneous IDF strike.

Following the WCK strike, SmartAID has also been looking into providing food for Gaza, he said. US partners are waiting to supply “hundreds of tons” of food that will be shipped to SmartAID if it gets approval for that plan.

SmartAID is also providing aid to Israeli survivors of the Hamas attack, those evacuated from the war zone, and Israeli farmers in the border area who have struggled to tend crops due to the fighting, the report said.

Most Popular
read more: