Helping people affected by war and disaster
By Chandrea Serebro
When Gal Lusky needs some downtime, like every woman and mum, she doesn’t pick up a good book and put her feet up on the bed, while she loses herself in a world of fantasy. It’s from this world, the real world, that she is escaping, a dark and scary one filled with patches of light and hope. So when Gal wants to relax, she rents out a hotel room somewhere in the lush hillside of the Golan, so she can process and regroup before joining her family again.
But then Gal isn’t your usual woman and mum. She is the archetypal Israeli wonder woman, the likes of which Israeli film star Gal Gadot’s movie character of the same name could have been modelled on to truly give her the justice she deserves. But Gal isn’t chasing the spotlight; just the opposite in fact. Most of what Gal does is under the radar, literally and figuratively. Gal spends her days sneaking into war-torn or disaster-stricken areas of humanitarian crisis undetected, to help the people there who are suffering as a result of the political or environmental situation in which they find themselves.
She began her adventure, which became her calling, when she joined an NGO in Rwanda to help reunite people with their loved ones after the civil war there, which would prove to be the start of a decade-long foray into helping people affected by war and disaster. And after that, Gal found herself to be ever the social entrepreneur she dreamed of being in her youth, coming to the aid of all people, anywhere she could, for truly altruistic reasons – without any hidden agenda – something that is unique in the international do-gooding arena.
But the point of departure for Gal’s philanthropy came more from intensely personal reasons, despite the selflessness of it. It was a personal epiphany of her youth that drove her to change her life and pursue her dream of helping those who cannot help themselves. When Gal was in her early 20s, putting herself through university by working as a flight attendant, the Israeli-Lebanon Crisis hit and her younger brother was critically wounded. Gal quit school and her job and she spent a year in the hospital by his side while he went through rehabilitation after she almost lost him, her only brother. During this time she began helping other people there who were affected by the war, realising how lucky she was and committing herself to helping others. “Suddenly, it became clear to me how blessed I am to be Israeli. To be born in a country with the medical facilities to care for people. I decided then that if my brother was to come out of this, I wanted to bring this to the world.”
In Sri-Lanka after the devastating 2004 Tsunami, Gal was educated into the politics of poverty and war when she discovered the way that countries legitimise the genocide of the opposition by disallowing aid to reach the people who are also the very victims of the regime because they oppose it. Gal was incensed by the fact that this legitimised murder is allowed by the United Nations, and, on top of that, not even criminalised. “There is an eternal dispute between law and justice – and when there are lives at stake, we all have to make a choice. And I have chosen to follow justice.” This is the reason why Gal sneaks in, unannounced or undetected and largely anonymous, doing her good work with neither the government nor the opposition of the conflict knowing just who or what she is and why she is there. When she is ready to leave, she sneaks out, no one the wiser, but adulated by so many people whose lives she helps as this unknown angel.
“Some people see me as an angel, while others see me as a criminal.” Gal established volunteer Non-Profit Organisation Israeli Flying Aid to offer lifesaving support to people in conflict-torn zones, support that gets to the pulse of the situation quickly and efficiently, in and out before any questions are asked. “Our slogan is, ‘Nobody asks permission to kill; we don’t ask permission to save lives.’ This is a moral value that I wish to go viral.” Since then, Gal and her team have operated numerous rescue operations around the world, many of them covert, including Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iraq, Kashmir, the Sudan, Nepal, Haiti, New Orleans, and more, many of which she cannot disclose.
“I have to remain anonymous because most of these war-torn areas are not democracies, many of them don’t accept foreign aid, and certainly don’t maintain diplomatic ties with Israel.” Fear is out of the question, says Gal – “where there is a will there is a way”. She sometimes wonders if it is indeed courage that eggs her on – or rather dedication. As long as she remains dedicated to the situation at hand without getting caught up in any politics, “looking around and seeing innocent faces in front of me”, then somehow “I get the power to do whatever I need to do and complete my mission and then move on.” She has no choice but to, she says – “knowing that so many people are suffering right on our borders”.
It’s the suffering of these innocent faces that Gal sees and the knowledge of what these same faces might become after Gal helps them that “changes you forever”. Gal is still in touch with some of those she helped, at great cost to her personal safety because she is Israeli. She feels satisfaction in the fact that their lives are improving. And when she feels like she cannot cope with the gravity of the work at hand – “some days dropping my kids at school in the morning, then racing across the border before being back at home by bedtime” – Gal finds she cannot return home to any semblance of normal life. “I take myself off to the Golan, where I spend my time crying at all that I have seen and heard, trying to process everything before I return home to my family” – giving herself some much-needed rest and respite to integrate into her being the things she has experienced and lived on her missions.
Then, it is back to planning the next mission with renewed energy, for which Gal is finding the raising of funds increasingly difficult. “To fundraise, you have to be able to sell your cause, so that the work that you do can resonate with the donors who then support your work. Because I sneak in anonymously, this was something I could never do.” But now, because of this, Gal has recently disclosed some of her work because she saw just how effective fundraising could be when the donors see where their support is going. “I decided to disclose some of the work that we do last year when youth movements in Israel collected winter supplies for Syrian civil war refugees for us to distribute. When people heard and saw of the plight of these children dying in Syria, they embraced the chance to make a change. More than 70 tons of winter clothing and linen was collected, and we delivered it the very next week.”
“I always thought Israel does so much good and I wanted to see Israeli support on the ground in all areas, even those who may represent our biggest challenges. This drives me forward to the next mission, because I cannot just return to my comfortable life knowing that there is something that I could be doing for the good.” Gal’s greatest joy is planning the next mission, and as soon as enough funds have been raised, this real-life Israeli wonder woman jumps at the next chance to do some real good without accolade or award, just purely for the chance to change lives in a real, lasting way.
For more information on Israeli Flying Aid, visit: www.ifaid.com