Rabbis for Human Rights Covid-19 response
Rabbis for Human Rights
Every year we donate to Rabbis for Human Rights to support their fight for equality and justice in Israel. This year I saw Avi the Executive Director in March 2020 just before the lockdown brought on by Covid-19. At that time, he was touring England and meeting many different pro Palestine groups and Jewish organizations. He even met a MP and parliamentary aids. During his time in London he was also interviewed by the Jewish Chronicle a UK Jewish news outlet. I asked him what RHR’s plans were and he had listed four main initiatives:
- Increase formal members and improve Rabbi infrastructure. This will increase RHR reach to the Rabbis communities. This is in fact how we heard about RHR.
- Improve relationship with Palestinian and Bedouin farmers. Avi wants to have a relationship with these farmers all year round not just before the olive harvest. He wants to find out other problems they face and also get as much work down before the olive harvest period begins so it can run as smoothly as possible. They are also creating a handbook together with Yesh Din (a legal NGO in Israeli) so farmers and volunteers know their rights when they are confronted by for soldiers. In 2019 they were able to co-ordinate 400 volunteers to help 40 farmers in 8 different Palestinian villages.
- Social Justice, RHR started to help at an asylum seeker centre in Beer Sheva since the other NGO who helped at this centre fell apart. RHR are filling the gap that was created by the failed NGO. This centre is fully supported by volunteers.
- Pre-Military Academy Education, in 2019 they were able to work with 350 students from 10 Pre-Military Academies. Nava and two other teachers teach these students about democracy and the importance of safeguarding human rights. They also teach them about the different communities living in Israel and about tolerance and acceptance of all different people.
However due to Covid-19 this has changed. In March Israel was locked down and RHR had to act straight away. They had to ensure those without a voice would not be left behind. They immediately together with other human rights organisations fought for the food security of 11,000 poor Jewish and Arab families. They were able to get these families a stipend from the government to cover their basic food purchases.
In the first two weeks of lockdown unemployment in Israel grew to 16%, today reaching 20%. RHR have been fighting together with 22 other organisations to make sure these people without jobs and close to 2 million people living in poverty in Israel receive welfare. Before the lockdown, many vulnerable people had a way to receive government support such as children from poor families would receive free meals at school, poor elderly would receive daily food assistant but due to the lockdown this was no longer possible. RHR and partners ensured 11,000 families were able to receive stipends so they could buy food.
The lockdown meant their Hadera centre had to close, RHR immediately set up a hotline so the people they were serving could still receive their help. RHR also partnered with Zazim a grassroots organisation. This allowed them to increase the reach of the hotline, cut down on costs and increase the capacity to answer calls. The partnership also meant more volunteers and access to a larger network of volunteers who had different backgrounds and language skills. Their hotline has received 500 calls and they have helped these people get the information they need to claim benefits and receive the welfare they are entitled to. It has also allowed RHR to gauge what problems the underserved are facing.
During this lockdown period RHR has been using zoom to connect with Israelis and donors. They often hold conferences and talks with Universities and other Charities to spread their message. I feel RHR has been extremely active and formed a lot of partnerships with other charities. They have also been able to serve and protect vulnerable Arabs and Israelis and ensure they receive the essential services they need. You can find out more by visiting their website: https://rhr.org.il/eng/