Israel's effort to quash rocket fire from Gaza continues with a ground operations against Hamas, which rejects Israel's right to exist.
The escalation of the conflict began in late December after several days of intense Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns following the expiration of the informal six-month truce between Israel and Hamas. Israeli war planes struck key Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas' main security compound, military posts, and smugglers' tunnels linking Gaza and Egypt. (Read A letter to the community about the situation in Israel. Also visit the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs for updates on Israeli actions. Also note the Community Briefing at North Shore Congregation Israel and briefing at Anshe Emet Synagogue, and a City-wide rally that JUF has organized.)
JUF-funded agencies continues long-standing assistance
Dealing with terror hardly is a new reality for Israel's southern communities. JUF's overseas primary agencies, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, have been helping the citizens of Sderot and the Gaza Perimeter for the past eight years.
As the situation escalates, JUF, through its agencies, is on the ground, responding--as it has done throughout the year. JUF has just committed $1 million for humanitarian needs in Southern Israel, in addition to a range of immediate and long-term assistance programs, including:
- Immediate financial aid for victims of Kassam attacks through the Fund for Victims of Terror and its SOS Emergency Fund.
- Cultural and recreational activities for children and youth in Sderot and surrounding communities, including a week-long program of entertainment during Hanukkah vacation and educational trips and summer camps in central and northern Israel.
- Business coaching and loans for small- and medium-sized business facing financial ruin as a result of the situation in the region.
- Trauma training that enables local community members to serve as first responders, and additional resources for psychological support including a hotline and mobile response unit.
- Scholarships for students studying in southern colleges and institutions of higher education and incentive programs that encourage students and young adults in the south to stay and give back to their communities.
Background to the current conflict with Hamas
"Israel is working to bring about a change in the situation where Israeli communities are hit by Hamas rocket barrages on a daily basis," said David Baker, spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, told JUF News.
Sallai Meridor, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said in a conference call with representatives from U.S. Jewish organizations that "Israel had no other choice but to take action to defend itself." Israel seeks to damage the terror infrastructure and impair Hamas' capacity to terrorize Israeli citizens, Meridor said. He also called on the American Jewish community to continue to show support for Israel: "We need you more than ever. The lives of Israelis are on the line. Security is on the line," he said.
Orli Gil, Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, told JUF News that in media interviews, private meetings, and appearances she senses a broad understanding of Israel's position.
"Israel’s position in this ordeal is very much justified. Most of the people we are trying to connect with are very positive," Gil said, thanking Jewish federations and community relations councils for their support.
In a letter, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his gratitude for the American Jewish community's ongoing support to the State of Israel and her people.
Israel's response to indiscriminate Palestinian rocket fire came after dozens of rockets hit a large number of Israel's southern communities including Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot, and Ofakim. One person was killed and four wounded in Netivot alone. Another man was wounded seriously during Shabbat morning services as his synagogue took a direct hit.
Hamas targets JUF's Partnership 2000 region and other communities for first time
On Saturday, December 27, terror rockets for the first time hit the town of Kiryat Gat in JUF's Partnership 2000 region. Rockets have also been falling in western Lachish and throughout Shafir--other parts of the P2K region, according to Linda Epstein, director of JUF's Jerusalem office. (Listen to Epstein's reports from the region. Read reactions by teens living in Kiryat Gat.)
"People yesterday [Saturday] were in shelters for a good chunk of the afternoon, and again for various periods today," Epstein said. "Schools are still on Hannukah holiday, so they have not been affected directly yet. Kiryat Gat and Shafir only a little over a week ago had a major drill for citizens to prepare for such an eventuality. The mayors told me that thankfully no one from our area was directly injured, although people are clearly quite nervous and anxious."
On December 24th, just days after the cease-fire ended, 80 rockets and mortar shells struck homes, schools, outdoor public spaces, businesses and more across the Southern Negev region. By 9:00 a.m., 25 rockets had already begun terrorizing the lives of residents in Sderot and nearby communities as far ranging as Ashkelon.
From small businesses and factories, to kindergartens, community centers and schools, the incessant strikes have caused damage on every level – physically and psychologically; communally and individually. Widespread panic and hysteria have ensued as post-traumatic sentiments have resurfaced and intensified. First responders, working with local authorities, have frantically raced toward attack sites to offer on-the-scene assistance ranging from the emotional to the structural.
Epstein said that additional needs directly related to the situation might arise in JUF's Partnership 2000 region, where bomb shelters, thankfully, have not needed to be used in recent years.
"Now the shelters are in terrible condition. Should this situation extend beyond just a few days, then that becomes a serious impediment to the population at large," Epstein said. She also reported that the Kiryat Gat stadium has been designated as a locale for the injured "should a large number of people be hit at once" and that ambulances are stationed in the area. "Remember, the closest hospitals are Ashkelon and Beersheva, which also are under attack."
While the Israeli government and JUF-funded agencies are helping Israeli civilians in the target zone, there is concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which Israel is trying to ameliorate despite the conflict, according to Gil.
Learn more about JUF's long-term and ongoing efforts to assist and show solidarity with Israelis under fire:
For breaking news and analysis about the situation, see Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, YNet News, and JTA.
Help Israeli civilians by contributing to the Jewish United Fund.