We continue to report to you, Sunday, the fifth day of Operation Pillar of Defense on the ongoing conflict with Gaza, including relentless rocket fire against Israel.
Today rockets landed next to a kindergarten in Ashkelon, hit a car and the front of a house in Beer Sheva, our sister city. A fireman and two residents have suffered shrapnel injuries. School remains closed within a 40 kilometre radius of Gaza for security reasons as all children remain in shelters.
In addition to the three Israeli civilians killed on Thursday, three remain in critical condition including an 8-month old baby. Over 80 Israelis have been taken to hospital with injuries in recent days. Many more have been treated for shock and emotional trauma and the true toll of this conflict will only be seen in the months and even years to come. Hospitals are currently working with significantly reduced staff as many doctors and nurses have been called up for army service. Some 4.5 million Israeli residents, over half of Israel's population, live in rocket range and are now on alert for attacks. Over 1300 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza in 2012 alone and approximately 900 in recent days.
The steering committee of Federation CJA’s Israel & Overseas group, responsible for the planning and allocation of our funds in Israel, is currently on the ground in Israel and are conducting meetings with our regional partners in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This team of dedicated lay leaders and professionals unanimously agreed to depart on their planned trip last Wednesday, despite the rising tensions in Southern Israel, because they understood the importance of showing solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel. We are in continuous contact with them, and are sharing some of their “real-time” reflections, including experiencing a red alert while at the Kotel during Shabbat.
From Marian Levy (Chair, Israel & Overseas Committee):
Friday night at the Kotel. Kabbalat Shabbat. Crowded as usual, but more boisterous. A reflection of the mood of the country under attack. Watching young girls in a group quietly singing together. Find out that they are from all over North America on their GAP year, studying at local yeshiva. They form a circle and start to dance. Young women soldiers no older than they are join in with them. Fresh faces smiling, dancing and singing 'don't be afraid'.Watching young men through mechitza singing and dancing 'don't be afraid'.
Am Yisrael Chai. Don't be afraid, they sing, arms raised in the air. Miri talking about how we can't understand what it is like in Beer Sheva We are standing at the Kotel. We are safe. Loud speaker. Words in Hebrew. Don't understand. Everyone starts running. People are saying that the sirens have gone off.I start running too. Security is telling us to get to the alcoves. Get separated from the group. Run across from women's section through the men's section. Counting the seconds in my head. Reach the alcoves. Protected under the cover of the alcove. More and more people squeeze in. Small space. Think that maybe I will get crushed. Young girls ask for quiet. They start praying. Many are crying. More information from loudspeaker. Young woman translates for me, "This is not a practice - this is the real thing". I think that if I can bbm and I get an answer back then I will be o.k. Ellen answers. She and the others in an alcove also. Not sure which one. Two men walk in front of the alcove - yell out the names of their family. Looking for their wives. The women squeeze by. Start playing with two little children and talk to their mother. Heart pounding but was not really scared. Believe in fate. I go home in a few days. For the Israelis this is home. This is their reality.
From Elizabeth Perez (Director, Planning & Allocations):
Supposed to be 'A Different Update'…The Israeli news is full of information on the matzav (situation), and some Beer Sheva residents have taken refuge with friends and family in other parts of the country. But here in Jerusalem, Shabbat has entered. Surreptitiously emailing at the Kotel, I am surrounded by competing voices - a group of young women dancing and singing in melodic and gentle unison and a group of male soldiers to my left, beyond the mechitza, banging, clapping, their discordant yet soothing male voices bellowing Hebrew songs.
The sun is setting, sky a deep pale blue, the air is warm; the wall is before me.All is calm - wait something is happening - everyone is asked to go in the buildings for protection. We don't know why - no siren. Waiting for info.Started writing as different update - oh well.In a tunnel at the Kotel, very hot and crowded, seems we're here as a precaution, missiles hit suburbs of Jerusalem. All clear now. Beginning to move out.
The Israeli response
Up to 75,000 Israelis have now received a "Tsav 8", calling them up to army reserve service. The media in Israel is rife with “call up” stories. One reserve soldier left his new wife of half a day on Friday. They celebrated their wedding Thursday evening and the next morning he left to join his unit.
An average of one rocket is being fired at Israel every six minutes. Long range Fajr-5 rockets continue to be fired at Tel Aviv. Watch a video taken by a local resident of a rocket being intercepted over Tel Aviv by the Iron Dome system. Iron Dome has intercepted over 180 rockets headed toward civilian areas. Every anti-rocket missile used by the Iron Dome defense system costs $50,000. Since Wednesday, usage of the five Iron Dome units currently deployed to protect residential areas has cost over $12.5 million.
The IDF continues its efforts to avoid civilian casualties due to air strikes. One Israeli pilot aborted a mission when he saw children near the rocket-launching site.
Israel makes every effort to limit civilian harm, a difficult challenge as Hamas launches rockets from civilian areas. Hamas admits to using civilians to shield terrorist activities. Watch a video of a surgical strike against an underground launching site located right by a mosque.
Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Cabinet this morning, "In my talks with (global) leaders, I emphasize the effort Israel is making to avoid hitting civilians and this at a time when Hamas and other terrorist organizations are making every effort to hit civilian targets in Israel. We are a responsible government that is obligated, above all, to the security of its citizens, and we are acting in accordance with this obligation."
Israeli continues to treat Gazan civilians in need of medical care in Israeli hospitals. 99.3% of the thousands of Gazans who requested permits to enter Israel for medical treatments, were approved entry. Currently, Gazan hospitals are reported to be at 80% capacity, only slightly higher than intake during routine periods. Despite the conflict, this morning, Israel coordinated the transfer of 124 truckloads of goods into Gaza, including humanitarian supplies of food and medicine.
The cyber battle also continues to be fought. Hundreds of Israeli websites have been hacked and false images of the conflict are being spread on Twitter by Hamas-affiliated organizations.
Social media continues to be of use in Israel as food supplies were coordinated for residents in the south before the Sabbath and delivered to some families. Most families are unable to venture out from their shelters to buy food and many stores are not stocked. A prayer assembly is being organized at the Kotel today, at 4 p.m. Israel time, to pray for peace for all Israel. Posters are inviting people from "all colors of the rainbow to stand together with Israel for peace and the success of the IDF."
Over the last four days, all election campaigning has ceased, but some parties are beginning to question whether elections should be postponed. In theory, the party primaries for both Likud and Labor are scheduled for the beginning of next week. Both parties are exploring the possibility of postponing their primaries, especially if a ground campaign begins. Under such conditions, primary elections would be problematic for the candidates as well as for voters, many of whom may be called to reserve duty. The problem with postponing primaries is that by law, full party lists must be submitted six weeks prior to national elections, in this case by December 10. As a result, there are currently quiet discussions in to the possibility of postponing the national elections (currently scheduled for January 22) until mid or late February. The Knesset would have to meet in special session to approve such a move, which has only happened once before, during the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), of which Montreal is a part, has committed up to $5 million to the Israel Emergency Relief Fund for the immediate needs of the people of Israel, especially in the south, through both existing reserve funds and new contributions from Federations. Interested donors can make a contribution online or call .
Our partners, Jewish Federations of Canada - UIA, The Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and World ORT, along with the Israel Trauma Coalition, continue to provide assistance where possible, delivering immediate services and assistance on the ground throughout the south. Such services include trauma counseling, financial assistance, and potentially other initiatives including bringing children in the strike zones out of harm’s way.
We stand with our family in Israel and pray collectively for the safety of all those in harm’s way and a rapid end to this conflict.
We will continue to keep you abreast of any new developments.
David J. Cape