November 14, 2012
Jewish Federation & Family Services is closely following the continued severe violence in the South of Israel, which has escalated after the targeted killing of Hamas terrorist and kidnapper, Ahmed Jabri, yesterday, Wednesday, November 14.
Rockets have been hitting Southern Israel since Saturday, with 196 missiles fired since the Israeli military operation began yesterday. This morning, Thursday, a Grad missile hit an apartment in our sister city of Kiryat Malachi, killing Aharon Smagda, a 40-year-old father of three, Yitzchak Amselam, 22, and Mirah Scharf Cohen, a 25-year-old pregnant mother of three, and injuring others, including two infants, one of whom, 8-months-old, is in critical condition
Yedidah Halevy, ZAKA Commander and volunteer in Kiryat Malachi, rushed to help. "I heard the explosion and ran in the direction of the smoke. Other ZAKA and MDA volunteers arrived with me [and we] began to treat the injured. ZAKA volunteers continued their sacred work of dealing with the bodies and collecting human remains, despite another Code Red alarm.” Five rockets were fired at the city and intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system while emergency teams assisted the wounded.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, "Hamas and the terror organizations decided to escalate their attacks on the citizens of Israel over the last few days. We will not accept a situation in which Israeli citizens are threatened by the terror of rockets. No country would accept this, Israel will not accept it."
We strongly condemn the terrorist activity against Israel and offers our support throughout this crisis. Michael Siegal, Chair of The Jewish Federations of North America says, “Since this past weekend, citizens of Israel’s south have been targeted by yet another rocket barrage by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, that have put more than one million Israeli civilians under a state of siege. We call on the international community to condemn such unprovoked violence and vigorously defend Israel’s right to protect itself and its citizens from further harm.”
“These latest unprovoked attacks follow years of unrelenting terror that has forced so many Israelis to live in a constant state of fear -- conditions which no country would tolerate,” added Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA. “We proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with the people and state of Israel during this difficult time and pray that such attacks will soon end."
There is a cyber-battle taking place simultaneously, with Hamas publicizing (on Twitter) pictures of civilians injured in Syria's civil war and claiming they are images of those harmed by IAF airstrikes over Gaza. The IDF has also been informing Gazan residents of impending airstrikes by dropping leaflets overland throughout the day. The Arabic leaflets urge to "take responsibility and avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives and facilities and those of other terror organizations that pose a risk to your safety."
A center for coordinating public diplomacy efforts has been opened in an effort to spread Israel's message and counter the delegitimization of its actions. Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein said, "We are here in order to expose the unbearable reality of the residents in the south and the necessity for military action against Hamas and the [other] terrorist organizations. I am certain that alongside us will stand tens of thousands of activists in Jewish communities around the world."
Missiles have reached Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon and Ashdod, showing the far reach of this violence. Over 12,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza in the past 12 years and the missiles reach further across the country each time.
Our historic partner, The Jewish Agency for Israel, is preparing relief for youth in the South and will move ahead with activities once it has received permission from the Home Command. Relief for professional staff is also being planned as well as psych-social work at absorption centers in the South. Funds are being given immediately and directly to all whose homes have been damaged by rockets.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is holding emergency meetings on how best to assist the populations in the South. The Israel Trauma Coalition is working with professionals in the field and is making an assessment of the situation. Emergency arrangements are being coordinated with RAHEL and the Government of Israel.
World ORT is coordinating an emergency response. World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer said, "Extra-curricular activities provided through the Centre of Excellence in Kiryat Gat will be held in the communal air raid shelter. While we hope for the best we are prepared for the worst.”
University students have been evacuated from their dormitories and sent home, and all within 40 km of Gaza have been ordered by the Home Front Command to remain in shelters until further notice. Some do not have access to shelters and are therefore stuck to the safest place they can find – for many that is the communal stairwell in their apartment block. The Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon is moving patients into an underground bunker in readiness.
The South of the country is dealing with life put on hold in all aspects. Weddings are being moved to safer locations, even though no one will turn up, and citizens in the North are offering their homes for respite to the rocket-battered residents of the South. The Home Command is advising all not to travel to the South. Reserve soldiers are being called up for action.
Federation leaders are scheduled to convene today to discuss the situation.
Ever since terrorists based in Gaza started firing missiles into Israel several years ago, the residents of Kiryat Malachi have been worried. Over the years, missiles have fallen around the town but have landed in open areas just outside of the municipal borders. All of that changed this morning at 8:32 Israel time when a Grad missile hit a residential building in Kiryat Malachi's Habad neighborhood. The missile exploded in two neighboring apartments on the 4th floor. Two women and a man in their 30s were killed. A four year old boy was seriously wounded and two others including an infant were moderately wounded. Another six were lightly wounded.
Around 8:00 AM sirens began sounding. Loud booms were heard from rockets landing nearby and then an enormous boom when the rocket landed in the town. While most of the residents had moved into the stairwells and shelters of the apartment building, those who were killed and seriously wounded were hit in rooms next to the exterior walls of the building. The National Police Director cited the fact that the people in that building were religious, many without TVs, and many unaware what to do when the sirens began. He also asked that Israelis living in the 40 kilometer zone near Gaza stay in protected rooms and not leave for errands and certainly not to come to Kiryat Malachi to see the damage. Since the explosion, people in Kiryat Malachi have remained mostly in shelters with most businesses and places of work being closed. Schools had been closed since yesterday in Kiryat Malachi and in all the communities within 40 kilometers from Gaza.
Kiryat Malachi has been in a state of shock and people are very worried. Being a small town, many people knew the families. The town now feels that it is targeted and this has a great impact on everyone's mental health. The emergency command center is fully operational and Dvora has been there all morning. Psychologists, social workers, religious leaders and educators have been mobilized to work with the families of those killed and injured as well as preparing. The social workers are also involved with finding homes for residents under the auspices of the Welfare Department who are suffering from shock. Work is being done to plan for the immediate future if the missiles continue to fall. The community center and afternoon programs are planning to carry out programs in protected areas starting Sunday if the attacks continue. This might include taking kids out of the town on organized programs for the day. The communities from abroad might be asked to help in funding if it actually takes place.
In the communities of the Ashkelon Coast Region, missiles have fallen in open areas and sirens have been sounding all morning. The roads from 8 kilometers from the Gaza border have been closed to through traffic. People are being told to prepare for an emergency situation that will last at least a week's time.
More than 200 missiles have fallen on Israel since 4:30 PM yesterday afternoon when the Israeli air force killed Ahmed Jabari, the military commander of Hamas. While ignoring its own missile and mortar attacks on Israel over the last week, the organization has declared the targeted killing of Jabari as an act of war. Experts and commentators believe that the intensity of the attacks on both sides will continue to grow.
I am sure that an e-mail or call from America to friends in Israel in our partnership region will be appreciated. Right now, our social services leaders Yaffa and Dvora and Yossi are incredibly busy but hopefully later on today, they will have a little time to talk. Those of you who have made friends with the teens or adults from the region -- please know a call would be welcome, even an e-mail to say that your thoughts and prayers are with them.
Partnership Director for Tucson, Phoenix and Seattle