When the historic Abraham Accords were announced in late summer 2020, much emphasis was placed on the significant economic potential for all the parties. But for one man watching the ceremony at home in Jerusalem, there was another, potentially more impactful outcome to the normalization agreements - the opportunity for joint humanitarian efforts in the wider Middle East and Gulf states.
ZAKA Search and Rescue chairman and founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav has spent the last three decades building up a network of nearly 5,000 specially trained volunteers in Israel and around the world, equipped to offer emergency response at natural disasters, accidents, terror attacks and mass casualty incidents. The ZAKA volunteers work to save lives where possible, and to preserve dignity in death for those who cannot be saved, in keeping with religious traditions and societal sensitivities.
For Meshi-Zahav, an ultra-Orthodox eleventh-generation Jerusalemite, this humanitarian mission is fueled not only by his religious conviction, but also by his deep commitment to helping everyone in need. "We are told in the Bible that man is made in the divine image. All humankind, not Jews or any other religion. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to show the utmost respect to the dead, as well as the living, regardless of religion, race, creed or gender.
"As soon as I heard about the Abraham Accords and the new opportunities opening up in the UAE, I began seeking out partners to bring ZAKA's specialist experience and expertise in search, rescue and recovery to the relevant parties in the UAE and beyond," continues Meshi-Zahav.
Historic deal with DIHAD
This search led to a historic agreement in November 2020 with Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference & Exhibition (DIHAD) to support collaborations in the humanitarian field in international crises and disasters, including participation in DIHAD 2021, taking place in Dubai in March. For the first time in its history, DIHAD will host a special presentation by an Israeli humanitarian organisation, when Mati Goldstein, Commander of the UN-recognised ZAKA International Rescue Unit and a veteran of many international mass casualty disasters, will deliver a presentation on 'How National Disaster Management Authorities Usefully Integrate International Expertise'.
"Our experience at the Haiti earthquake in 2010 taught us how vital it is for local teams to fend for themselves correctly in the first few hours and days before professional help arrives," explains Goldstein.
The need for speed
It was this same understanding that time is of the essence in saving lives that led ZAKA to establish its Rapid Rescue Motorcycle Unit, with hundreds of paramedic motorcyclists riding specially equipped bikes. Each bike is equipped with a full emergency medical kit, defibrillator, siren and advanced communication equipment. Some even have 3G cameras to broadcast real time images from emergency incidents to the local hospital's ER department - yet another example of harnessing technology to save lives.
The same need for speed to reach the injured led to the establishment of other specialist units within the ZAKA organisation - jeeps and ATVs, jet-skis and divers, a canine unit and even a rappelling unit. All units have trained volunteers who use their special skills and equipment to reach those in need located in areas otherwise inaccessible to the regular emergency services.
ZAKA volunteers, recognisable in Israel with their double-sided light-reflecting vests (orange for helping the injured and yellow for clearing human remains), are much respected by all sectors in Israeli society for their dedication and professionalism in their holy work.
Meshi-Zahav is known for his outreach work with all sectors in Israeli society, promoting volunteerism and pluralism, and working to bridge societal gaps. While most, but not all, ZAKA volunteers are religious Jews, the organisation includes secular Jews, Muslims, Bedouins and Druze among its volunteers.
In 2018, he founded Eshet Lapidot as a subsidiary of ZAKA, a women's philanthropic international organisation that works to facilitate social community initiatives for women in Israel and around the world, particularly in the field of health and well-being. Projects include empowering Israeli Arab women, by teaching them basic first aid skills to minimise serious and even fatal accidents in the home.
VISIT ZAKA AT DIHAD
Meshi-Zahav sums up: "In the true spirit of the Abraham Accords, we invite all interested parties to visit us in person at DIHAD 2021, or contact us at https://zakaworld.org/conferences/dihad/ to hear more about our unique, UN-recognised light search and rescue training and other potentially life-saving ideas such as our Rapid Rescue motorbikes. We hope it is just a matter of time before we welcome the Dubai branch into the ZAKA International Rescue Unit."
For more information, visit www.zakaworld.org
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