Nearly four decades after the Foreign Ministry minimized medical, agricultural and other aid to African countries when they severed diplomatic relations due to the Yom Kippur War, the ministry is boosting such humanitarian assistance beyond the pre-1973 level, according to ministry’s deputy director Haim Divon, who heads Mashav, the department for international cooperation.
Divon, who spoke Tuesday at a seminar on “Health in Africa in 2010” organized by the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, told The Jerusalem Post that many Africans who received help during the 1950s and 1960s still warmly remember their Israeli counselors and friends, and appreciate what they learned and received from them.
The ministry official said that after the African countries cut ties, they asked Israel to continue to provide such aid nevertheless, but it was withdrawn until ties were restored in the 1980s. Divon said that there are currently many idealistic Israeli professionals willing to go to teach public health, medicine, agriculture and irrigation techniques, empowerment of women, education and other subjects in Africa under difficult conditions.
Before the Yom Kippur War, the ministry allocated $7 million (in 1970s currency) per year for African aid. It dropped as low as $1 million, but when President Shimon Peres became foreign minister in the early 1990s, he increased it. Theministry now spends some $20 million annually on direct aid to the continent, excluding salaries. Divon said that Africa is regarded as the “number-one beneficiary” for Israeli knowhow.
“We are small compared to other countries that help, but the residents and leaders value the quality our advice, as it is based on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of research and development that we share with them.
“The foreign minister understands the impact of this aid on diplomatic ties and friendship. It improves our image in African countries, including Muslim ones, and the political leaders personally receive our ambassadors and regard them as relevant. It opens doors for us,” the Mashav director added.
The day-long seminar was attended by graduates and current participants of the Pears Scholars study program. The Pears Foundation, established by British Jewish philanthropist Trevor Pears, is expanding the annual number of scholars to eight per year, up from six. Twenty graduates attended the Tuesday seminar and are participating in a week-long program at theschool of public health organized by its dean Prof. Orly Manor and Dr. Yehuda Neumark.
HU Medical Faculty dean Prof. Eran Leitersdorf said that “if we help nations of Africa and strengthen their medical capabilities, our world will look much better. We welcome anyone who wants to donate for this purpose. We will launch additional collaborations and research so we can help them have better health and education.” Hadassah Medical Organization deputy director-general Dr. Yair Birnbaum said that as American Hadassah women created the beginnings of a public health network in Palestine a century ago, the HMO felt bound to help others today.
“One hundred years ago here, it was like Africa was 20 or 30 years ago. We are beneficiaries helped by others to set up our public health system, so maybe its our obligation to help others.” He recalled that Hadassah ophthalmologists were among the first Israelis to go to Africa to help treat eye diseases during the early years of Israel. The late Dr. Sidney and Emily Kark, who devoted themselves to African public health even before the establishment of Israel, later came here and helped build the Braun School, said his son, Prof. Jeremy Kark, also of the same school.
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