The Institute for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy in Israel at Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently released a report called Civil Society Engagement in Israel During the Iron Swords War: Emerging Trends and Preliminary Insights. Written by Prof. Michal Almog-Bar, Ronit Bar, Ron Barkai and Hila Marmus, it offers an analysis of the exceptional civil engagement and volunteerism witnessed in Israel during the first two weeks of the Israel-Hamas war.
Operation Iron Swords was triggered by a heinous terrorist attack on Israeli civilians, launching a massive mobilization effort aimed at bolstering the nation. In response, civil society rallied under the banner of “Defending Our Home,” setting aside preexisting social divisions. The collaborative report, authored by experts at Hebrew University, examines the remarkable civil initiatives, volunteerism and philanthropic contributions that played a pivotal role in addressing urgent needs and challenges during this critical period.
During the first two weeks of the war, civil initiatives demonstrated their ability to address the urgent needs and pressing challenges that arose within Israeli society. These initiatives played a pivotal role in executing crucial tasks such as rescue operations, evacuations, temporary shelter provision, and the distribution of vital food and medical supplies. Additionally, they provided invaluable psychological support to those affected, emphasizing the power of grassroots efforts in times of crisis.
Here are the key highlights of the institute’s report.
Diverse Civil Initiatives: the report highlights over 1,000 civil initiatives that emerged across Israel, encompassing a wide range of activities. These initiatives included the rescue and evacuation of civilians and animals, and provision of essential supplies, as well as support for bereaved families and those who went missing during the conflict.
Local and Affiliated Groups: local and affiliated groups played a significant role in addressing the specific needs of their communities, providing temporary accommodation to evacuees and extending their support beyond their local borders.
Volunteerism: 48.6% of the Israeli population engaged in volunteering during the war, a notable increase from the rate observed during the COVID-19 crisis (33%). Notably, volunteerism cut across all age groups, genders and religious affiliations. In particular, the rate of volunteerism among the Arab-Israeli population during the war reached 29%, a rise from the 19% recorded during COVID.
Spontaneous Volunteers: a substantial majority of volunteers (28%) during the war were newcomers to volunteering, underscoring the widespread participation of citizens who had not volunteered before the conflict. These newcomers were predominantly secular and had above-average incomes.
Primary Volunteer Activities: the most prominent volunteer activities included collecting, packing and distributing food and equipment, transportation of people, food and equipment, assisting security forces, participating in outreach activities through social networks, and offering essential aid to evacuees.
Volunteers and Donations: many volunteers integrated their efforts with financial contributions, participating in voluntary initiatives and crowdfunding campaigns, highlighting the synergy between volunteerism and philanthropy.
Inclusivity: unlike the predominantly youth-driven volunteering seen during the COVID crisis, individuals of all age groups participated actively. Notably, 46% of those aged 18-35, 52% of those aged 35-55 and 52% of those 55+ engaged in volunteering. Volunteerism transcended gender and religious boundaries. The use of technology for digital volunteering extended the reach to remote and mobility-limited populations, underscoring the adaptability and inclusivity of these volunteer efforts.
Financial Mobilization: Israel witnessed a swift and substantial mobilization of financial resources, surpassing levels observed during prior military operations. Support poured in from North American Jewry and Jewish federations, with donations estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The report underscores the importance of effective coordination between civil organizations and government bodies to ensure a unified response to pressing needs. It also suggests that civil organizations can evolve into a valuable support force for government activities during ongoing combat operations.
The study was a collaborative effort between the Institute for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy in Israel at Hebrew University, the Israeli Council for Volunteering, Civic Leadership (the umbrella organization of Israeli nonprofit organizations) and the Forum of Foundations in Israel. It included several surveys. The survey of volunteering during the first two weeks of the war was administered by the company Geocartographia and included 1,000 participants, constituting a representative sample of the adult population of Israel aged 18 and over.
– Courtesy Hebrew University of Jerusalem