Situation Update from Arnon Mantver, Director, JDC-Israel: The Gaza War
The waiting is over; our troops are in Gaza. The Defense Minister said the war will neither be short nor easy. We can only pray that our boys will do what needs to be done and come back safely - all of them. The soldiers gave up their cell phones early Saturday morning (a lesson learned from the Second Lebanon War where the enemy was able to track some troop movement based on cell phone use) so the parents are left to wait and hope. Prime Minister Olmert addressed the mothers today, "We decided to sent the boys in to protect the parents, the brothers and sisters, the neighbors they left back home. We did not come to this decision lightly. For many months we gave the ceasefire a chance with the hope of avoiding broad military action but our hopes were dashed." Despite the dangers, the Army Chief of Staff reports that hundreds of soldiers, reservists and even parents of soldiers who have not been called to action are contacting him to volunteer to enter Gaza.
Last night, the first evening of the ground incursion, was one of the quietest the Northern Negev has known for a while. Only a small number of missiles were fired, all landing in non-populated areas. But the respite was short. This morning many more were fired, with potentially deadly accuracy. Before 9:00 am, 16 rockets had been fired, one a direct hit on a home in Sderot and three on populated areas of Netivot.
The residents in the Negev are still in distress and we must do what we can to relieve their suffering. The Ministry of Welfare has asked us to partner with them in a program they initiated called 'To 120'. The goal is to be in constant contact with every elderly and/or disabled person living in a city located within 40 km (24-25 miles) of Gaza, to assess their situation and meet their needs. JDC is now helping the Government to recruit 150 workers who will carry out this important role. Training and supervision will be provided as the program moves into the implementation stage. The initiative builds upon existing JDC and Government programming in the cities, especially the supportive communities for elderly and disabled. The program will be operational for one month and extended if needed.
The satisfaction in the implementation of this program is two-fold. First, the national government is organized, coordinated and responsive. Second, JDC and the Ministry created a plan and infrastructure just for this eventuality and it is now being implemented.
The Government Leads the Third Sector
In my previous message, I updated you that the Authority for National Emergencies (known by its Hebrew acronym, 'Rachel') chose to work within the format of the Tri-Secotr Roundtables established by the Prime Minister's Office, with consultation from JDC. 'Rachel' is extremely active, under the leadership of Matan Vilnai, Deputy Minister of Defense. Vilnai appointed a Ministry staffer to be the liaison with all the relevant NGOs. In sharp contrast to the Second Lebanon War, the government is taking a clear lead in organizing and approving any volunteer activities in the Southern cities, and the cities, who are exhibiting stellar leadership during these trying times, are taking their cues from the national government. Foundation representatives who participate in the Rachel Forum report that the municipalities are satisfied with the way the national government is meeting their needs. Moreover, some of the larger foundations who approached the municipalities directly to offer aid were directed back to the Rachel Forum. Foundations and philanthropists are now learning what JDC has long known - working hand in hand with the government has many benefits, including coordination of efforts, leverage of resources and maximum impact.
JDC Infrastructure as Base for Emergency Activity
The two programs listed above are examples of how infrastructure programs introduced prior to the emergency and for quieter times have now become the basis for providing emergency services. Here are two additional examples:
Better Together is a JDC-Ashalim initiated program which takes a community-based approach to help children and youth at-risk in particularly needy neighborhoods. Residents of Better Together neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are hosting families from Better Together neighborhoods in range of the missiles, providing a day of respite for several hundred children and their families since the start of the emergency.
Youth volunteers from the JDC Amen program in Kiryat Shmona, Netanya and Modi'in are hosting families and youth from cities in the South. AMEN youth all over the country are getting local businesses to donate games, arts and crafts materials and activity sets which they are packing up and sending to shelters in the South.
I am currently in the US but am in contact with JDC's professional staff in Israel and my own family members and am already eager to return at the end of the week.
Peace, security and a safe return of our soldiers.