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Tension in Gaza escalates

Two weeks ago today, after disembarking from a tour bus, I was standing at the Black Arrow Memorial Site just a few hundred meters from the Gaza border, listening to an IDF officer tell me about activity on the other side of the border, and how thankfully it was a time of relative quiet and calm.

Yesterday, a similar Israeli bus, parked right by where I had been, was destroyed by an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza. A 19-year-old Israeli soldier was severely injured in the attack and remains in critical condition. According to authorities, a number of soldiers had disembarked from the civilian bus minutes before it was hit.

I’ve had a range of emotions since hearing this news yesterday: sadness, anger, frustration, etc. Someone asked me this morning if it was stressful having been at the site of an attack just before such unbridled terror and destruction. For me, the answer is no—every time I’ve been in Israel during or just before conflict (I was also there at the beginning of the conflict resulting in Operation Protective Edge in 2014), I’ve felt I was exactly where I was supposed to be: learning, building relationships with Israelis and the land, and even standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters there as they suffered through sirens and rocket attacks.

And, unfortunately that’s where we are once again: More than 400 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since yesterday, triggering an endless stream of sirens, and causing hundreds of thousands of civilians to spend the night in shelters.

While Israel’s Iron Dome Missile Defense System successfully intercepted more than 100 rockets that were headed to populated areas, 8 residential buildings were hit in Sderot, 6 in Ashkelon and 2 in Netivot. In the worst incident, a residential building in Ashkelon was hit by a rocket, killing a 48-year-old man and severely injuring two women. In total, at least 55 Israelis have been wounded by the effects of the rockets since the attacks began.

Residents of the region have been instructed to remain close to shelters, public gatherings have been banned, and kindergartens, elementary schools and high schools have all been closed (with classes cancelled for some 200,000 students) in Sderot, Be’er Sheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon (everywhere within 40 kilometers of Gaza).

I had been at Black Arrow Memorial Lookout two weeks ago as part of a mission planned by the Jewish Agency for Israel—one of Federation’s core overseas partners. We spent the day—municipal election day in Israel—around the Sha’ar Hanegev region, including meeting with a recipient of assistance from the Jewish Agency’s Fund for Victims of Terror.

The same Fund for Victims of Terror already has reached out to many families whose houses were struck by rockets overnight last night, and is providing immediate emergency financial assistance. So far 17 people have received emergency grants, within 24 hours of being injured or losing their homes. Among the recipients is a family of six from Netivot who spent last night in a hotel room after their home was destroyed, and a family from Ashkelon who stayed with relatives and are suffering from marked anxiety. Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog is today personally visiting those injured in attacks, and spending time in communities in the south to show support on behalf of world Jewry.
 
Alongside the Jewish Agency, Jewish Federations’ other key overseas partners (including JDC, the Israel Trauma Coalition [ITC] and World ORT) are all active on the ground dealing with the emergency situation, responding to urgent needs. ITC has activated its emergency protocols—their resilience centers have opened hot lines that have so far received more than 100 calls. And JDC is opening its Virtual Center for Independent Living, which serves people with various types of disabilities. The website offers advice, resources, and hosts virtual chats with professional staff. The site will provide 24-7 support for the duration of the emergency.

For those who would like to contribute to the Jewish Agency’s Fund for the Victims of Terror, which last year provided nearly half a million dollars in assistance to more than 250 families (in the form of both immediate financial assistance and long-term financial and emotional support), please click here, or send a check payable to Jewish Federation with the memo Victims of Terror. One hundred percent of your donation will go directly to this fund.

Meanwhile, Israel’s security cabinet this morning met in an hours-long emergency session, while the IDF moved additional tanks and infantry units to the Gaza border region, and considered a significant call up of reserves. This after the IDF—in response to the rockets—struck more than 150 Hamas and Islamic Jihad military targets in Gaza.

Still, I read yesterday afternoon that neither Israel nor Hamas wanted the situation to escalate, and this afternoon I am reading that the two sides have now agreed to a cease-fire that would follow the agreement reached in 2014. Yet the situation remains fluid and ever-so delicate. At this time, both sides would be well served to keep in mind the wise words of Alon Schuster, the outgoing (longtime) mayor of Sha’ar Hanegev: “War is not a tool to unload our emotions.”

With prayers for a return to a time of quiet and calm, and an extended time of peace ahead.

Derek Gale
Director of Community Building & Allocations
Israel & Overseas Staff