Monday, August 07, 2006

Middle East Conflict: Israel - conflict boosts generosity

A major charity effort is under way in Israel as the country deals with the impact of Hezbollah rocket attacks on its residents.

"The outpouring of support I've seen is tremendous," said Yonaton Bendor, a volunteer with the charity Table to Table, one of many organisations sending food to families in the north of Israel living in bomb shelters during daily attacks from Hezbollah rockets. "For better or worse, Israel has an incredible way of coming together in times of conflict."

The death of at least 10 Israelis on 6 August in a barrage of rockets was the largest number of Israeli fatalities from a single rocket attack since the start of the conflict on 12 July. The fighting began when Hezbollah, a Shi'ite Muslim political party with a military wing, captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel has responded with land and air strikes and a land, sea and air blockade of Lebanon.

To date, Israel's military offensive in Lebanon has killed 933 people and injured 3,222, according to the Lebanese Higher Relief Council (HRC). Meanwhile, Hezbollah has killed 89 Israelis and injured hundreds more, according to Israeli authorities.

Bendor said: "As soon as we opened distribution centres, we received 25,000 food packages that people had just made up themselves. The money we've received has been enough to send thousands more, as well as gift packages to the soldiers on the Lebanon front."

Jewish communities around the world have also shown their generosity, according to Yuval Susskind, Eilat representative for the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, part of the United Israel Appeal of Canada.

Susskind is responsible for managing an annual budget of about US $2 million donated to Eilat and the far south of Israel by the Jewish community in Toronto, which has adopted the region. "My organisation launched an emergency campaign with a live broadcast to the centre of Toronto from a bomb shelter in northern Israel, and within two hours they had raised [US] $6 million," he said.

It isn't only for food, he said. "Among other things, the country needs money for entertainment. These displaced people have nothing to do at all. So we are organising singers and theatre troupes as well as things like psychologists and social workers because there is a lot of stress."

Nabila Espanioly, from the Nazareth-based organisation Al Tufula, which means "The Children" in Arabic, is working to support Arab Israeli children whose villages in northern Israel are in Hezbollah's firing line. Arab Israelis make up about 20 per cent of Israel's population and there are 500,000 of them in northern Israel, she said.

"The public infrastructure in Arab towns is lacking and when it comes to security it means there aren't many public bomb shelters or sirens," she said.

Some of the most serious problems are in so-called 'unrecognised villages' - not officially recognised by the state of Israel, Espanioly said. There are about 10 such villages in the rugged Carmiel area near Haifa. "The people there are not allowed to build new houses, so they have built zinc barracks to live in. They do not have safe rooms because the dwellings are not made of stone," she said.

Every new home in Israel is required by law to have a safe room with reinforced bomb-proof walls and a thick steel door. This policy dates back to the first Gulf war in 1991, when Saddam Hussein, then president of Iraq, fired Scud rockets at Israel.

An estimated 500,000 Israelis have fled south to escape the rocket attacks and are staying with family or in hotels, according to an official in Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who declined to be named.

In Lebanon, more than 900,000 people have been made homeless in the conflict, according to the Lebanon Higher Relief Committee.

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN
IRIN 2006
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies