Situation update from Arnon Mantver, Director of JDC-Israel:
Israel's Southern Region Under Fire
Yesterday's news marked an escalation in the attacks on Southern Israel. The missiles fired hit farther than ever before and with greater accuracy, resulting in three fatalities. Suddenly, residents of cities such as Kiryat Malachi, Ashdod, Ofakim and Kiryat Gat - who were never considered in missile range - are being instructed to remain within 45 second range of a protected room. Gatherings of more than 100 people are allowed in roofed buildings only. School has been cancelled. As far away as Beersheva, the municipality has been directed to prepare all public shelters.
Ironically, Sderot and the surrounding kibbutzim and yishuvim have an "edge" on the cities which have recently joined them as missile targets. After eight years and nearly 8,000 missiles, they are more prepared to deal with the current attacks. For example, school cancellation is less onerous since the city has already introduced a distance-learning, computer-based system for just this eventuality, which JDC was involved in.
Before this newest crisis broke, David Buskila, Sderot's new mayor, had scheduled a meeting with me which was supposed to have taken place yesterday, in my office. The evening before we called and he asked if we could hold the meeting in Sderot instead, as a show of JDC's solidarity with the city; I immediately agreed.
Buskila, who held the post of Mayor prior to the outgoing Mayor, Eli Moyal, was just re-elected in November. My friendship with David goes back many years and he's a very special person. A long-time resident of Sderot, he was one of the leaders of a movement that attempted to foster understanding with the Gazans, back when that was still an option. He also made the exceptional move of donating one of his kidneys to his brother.
The city is pretty deserted, with many of the residents having moved north to stay with relatives. According to new municipal policy, any missile damage is repaired immediately (to maintain a façade of normalcy). The owner of the lone shop we found open told us he opened on principle, to demonstrate that Hamas cannot control his actions.
We met a woman who had recently made aliya from Kharkov; she participates in the Supportive Neighborhood for New Immigrants- The Path (Mishol), and despite being widowed and alone, told us she was not afraid. "I lived through the World War. I will live through this." There is no question that after eight years and nearly 8,000 missiles, the Sderotians - wherever they may have chosen to stay or go at this particular moment - are supportive and proud of the current IDF actions. Their relief is palpable.
What will happen to Israel's Southern cities in the very near future if no ceasefire is secured?
There are two scenarios: The situation will continue or it will escalate.
If the situation continues as is for more than two or three weeks, the needs of the residents will be many. Day Care Centers for the elderly are not operating now, for example, and homebound elderly will need visitation, medicines and meals on wheels. Activities will have to be provided for children who are not in school. Disabled individuals living in the community will require ongoing care. Small business owners will need financial assistance.
If the situation escalates, the needs will be even greater. Vulnerable populations may need to be taken out of the city for respite. Volunteers will have to be mobilized to assist families that may leave or be evacuated from the cities.
With the fear and uncertainty comes some good news: There is clear indication that both the national and local government is much more prepared to deal with this crisis than the previous one. JDC-Israel has a unique position as an advisor to the Tri-Sector Roundtable, a forum that convenes representatives from the Government, business and non-profit sectors to create a "pact" between the three sectors. The Forum is the initiative of the Prime Minister's Office which has displayed a genuine desire to strengthen the NGO Sector.
The goal is to coordinate governmental, voluntary and business efforts in the social arena and this forum is doing exactly that with regard to emergency efforts. Members are meeting every two to three days now and JDC continues to provide advice and consultation. The heartening news is that the level of cooperation, coordination and information sharing is excellent, both on the national and local level. Division of labor is clear and non-contentious. The business sector is prepared to provide resources as needed. The municipalities are considerably more functional than during the last crisis.
During this uncertain time, I am forced to compartmentalize my feelings. On the one hand, I am required, in my role at JDC, to asses the situation as dispassionately as possible, to analyze the needs and make decisions about what action to take. On the other hand, as an Israeli citizen, I am like everyone else: concerned about the safety our soldiers - sons/friends/neighbors - waiting on high alert on the border, glued to the news, hoping/waiting/fearing the next step which may or may not come. That so many of you wrote to me expressing your solidarity, offering prayers and hopes, underscores that this is not the Israeli reality - it is the reality of the entire Jewish people.
Wishing for peace and security,
Shalom from Jerusalem,