Israeli disaster relief team supporting UK flood victims have 'become heroes'

By John Fisher and Rosa Doherty, January 6, 2016
IsraAid's Mickey Noam-Alon, Gilad Lavi, Navonel Glick and Yuval Statman (Picture: John Fisher)

IsraAid's Mickey Noam-Alon, Gilad Lavi, Navonel Glick and Yuval Statman (Picture: John Fisher)

Residents in the flood-affected areas of Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Kirkgate in Leeds have been helped by an Israeli disaster relief charity, whose team flew in on Monday.

Four IsraAID volunteers are working to repair homes and distribute blankets and food in the worst hit areas.

Shachar Zahavi, IsraAID founding director, said: “Our volunteers are assisting with the current efforts and using our experience in such disasters to work out what more we can do.”

Team leader Navonel Glick said “people were shocked” when they realised the men were from Israel. “It was hard for them to process, because although other people had travelled from neighbouring towns to offer help, when the victims realised we had actually travelled from Israel they couldn’t believe it. Suddenly they started to grin from ear to ear and then the reaction was, ‘Wow! Really? From Israel. You truly came to help us from Israel?’”

The delegation have become heroes, with people pointing to them as they walk through the streets. Many have approached them to shake hands and express their gratitude.

The charity, which usually responds to disasters in developing countries, said it was not unusual to respond to floods of the scale that have hit parts of the UK.

Mr Zahavi said: “We have responded to 10 floods and tornado disasters in the United States and when we saw what was happening to the UK it looked worse than ever before.

“We got in touch with Jewish communities around the north of England and they told us about the independent NGOs working on the ground. We contacted them and local councils and arranged to send our team to help.

“We have another team waiting to be sent from Israel. We just have to assess where they are most needed and the best things we can do to help.”

Mr Glick, IsraAid deputy director, said that the situation was worse than they had anticipated, especially around Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, where many homes were completely destroyed, and where the water line in some homes was right up to the ceiling. “We are proud to play our part and to help people to return to some sort of normality. It was heartbreaking when people told us they had no insurance, for them it was a total loss.”

Mr Glick, Mickey Noam-Alon and Yuval Statman are from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with Gilad Lavi from a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip, and are all in their early 30s. This is the first time the organisation has responded to a disaster in the UK.

Victims have already exchanged details and want to stay in touch. The group is here until the middle of January but “we are flexible. If we are needed longer, then we’ll stay,” added Mr Glick.

Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Judith Chapman said: “This is an incredible initiative. I find it heartwarming to see that a delegation from Israel is prepared to drop everything in order to reach out to those in Yorkshire who have been affected by this recent terrible crisis and offer professional aid and support and their technical expertise.

“When we hear about the dreadfully disturbing events taking place worldwide then this humanitarian act puts everything into perspective and restores one’s faith in mankind.”

Simon Jackson, president of the Leeds Jewish Representative Council said: “Its quite amazing that the humanitarian reach of Israel through Israelaid stretches all the way to the flood hit region of West Yorkshire, to a place many have never heard of, Hebden Bridge, where very few Jews live.

"We here in Leeds have done our little bit to support the four Israelis, who without being asked, came to West Yorkshire to help this beleaguered community."

Last updated: 10:28am, January 7 2016