Updates from JFNA's Israel Office


November 13, 2019

Below you will find a message from the Israel Office of Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). If you missed the news yesterday about the conflict in southern Israel, you can visit your Jewish Community Relations Council's website for background information.

As one of JFNA's 146 Federations, your Columbia Jewish Federation, through your generosity, is helping to provide relief to people in southern Israel. Our support of JFNA's partner organizations, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and The Jewish Agency, helps to ensure that emergency assistance is available to all those affected.

Your Columbia Jewish Federation will continue to monitor the situation in Israel and inform our community as information is shared with us.

We pray for peace and security in the days ahead.

A Message from JFNA's Israel Office
The conflict in southern Israel has continued into a second day and our Israel office has prepared this update and summary.

 

Here are the major developments:
 

More than 250 rockets have been fired at Israel by Palestinian Islamic Jihad since 6:00am Tuesday, Israel time.

  • Despite a six-hour lull overnight, the rockets resumed early Wednesday morning.
  • Sirens have continued to sound across the south, and have also been heard in a number of locations near the Jerusalem - Tel Aviv highway corridor.
  • Some 60% of rockets fell in non-populated areas (or fell short, landing inside the Gaza Strip).
  • 90% of those rockets headed towards population centers were successfully knocked out of the sky by the Iron Dome Defense System.
  • Forty eight Israelis have been hurt by rocket fire or by falls when running to a shelter (mostly sustaining light or moderate injuries) and at least 25 people have been treated for shock.

 

In response to the rocket fire, the IDF carried out three waves of retaliatory attacks on Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets.

  • In the attacks, Israel reportedly hit dozens of Islamic Jihad sites across Gaza, destroying infrastructures and weapons stockpiles as well as killing 12 terrorists (according the Palestinian Ministry of Health).
  • Among other targets hit by the IDF were a facility that develops long-range rockets, as well as naval vessels belonging to the terrorist group.
  • According to an unnamed Israeli military source, the IDF has a “rich data bank” of additional potential Islamic Jihad sites that it can continue to hit.
  • For photos and further details about the IDF strikes, see here.
  • Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, less than 24 hours in his new position, appeared on Israeli television saying that “We are sending a strong and clear message to our enemies, on all fronts: Whoever plans to attack or harm Israel by day, should never be sure that they will make it through the night.”
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “We are not bent on escalation, but… will respond to every attack against us, and respond very sharply. Islamic Jihad would do well to understand this right now, instead of when it will be too late. I believe that Islamic Jihad is starting to internalize this message. They understand that we will continue to strike them without mercy. They understand that Israel is very strong and that our will is very great. We are determined to fight to defend our country and if they think that these barrages or these strikes will weaken us or lessen our determination, they are mistaken. Therefore, they have but one choice – to stop these attacks or take more and more blows. The choice is theirs.”
  • According to reports, Israel sent a message to Hamas saying that if the terror group stays out of the current fighting, it would be not be targeted by the IDF. This is a seemingly different approach than the one that Israel has taken in the past, where the IDF had stated that it holds Hamas responsible for everything that occurs in the Gaza Strip. From all accounts, both sides are keeping to this understanding, and there has been no direct conflict between Hamas and Israel in this round of fighting. (In fact, some commentators have suggested that Hamas is even encouraging the current fighting as a way of curtailing the strength of its rival, Islamic Jihad).
  • While the IDF says that it does not want the situation to escalate into a broader military operation inside the Gaza Strip, there has been a small increase in troop deployment along the Gaza border fence with a limited number of companies and battalions.

 

The IDF’s Home Front Command continues to impose restrictions:

  • All schools and kindergartens south of Tel Aviv remain closed.
  • In the south, all places of work, other than “essential services,” have been shuttered.
  • In the Tel Aviv region, school has resumed, but non-essential places of work are only permitted to open if they have a designated shelter or protected place that can be reached by workers within 90 seconds.
  • Economic damage to industry – mainly as a result of lost working time - after just one day of conflict, has been assessed at $80 million.

 

JFNA’s Israel office continues to operate under emergency protocols and is in close touch with relevant Israeli government branches, our partners, and individual federation representatives on the ground.

  • JFNA’s Israel office attended a meeting yesterday afternoon of the Emergency Coordination Roundtable (known by its Hebrew acronym, “Rahel”) at IDF military headquarters in Tel Aviv.
     
  • JDC is in the middle of a process of reaching out to municipalities in the South to asses needs. JDC has also opened the Virtual Center for Independent Living, which is a hotline for elderly residents living alone who may need special help, advice or counseling during the current emergency situation. The hotline was established with the support of a Jewish Federations grant. In addition, the JDC Ashalim program has recently trained social workers who work with families at risk, to provide special care during emergency situations and crises. The social workers are provided with a special emergency kit, which has proved – over the last 24 hours - to be extremely effective.
     
  • The Jewish Agency’s Fund for Victims of Terror (supported by Jewish Federations) has already provided immediate emergency assistance to families whose homes in the south have suffered direct hits. Within hours of yesterday’s attacks, the Agency’s Amigour subsidiary sent construction teams to repair homes hit by rocket fire, in coordination with the Ministry of Finance.
     
  • The Jewish Agency has also provided assistance to 6,500 new immigrants in absorption centers and 5,000 seniors in assisted living facilities in areas affected by the current crisis. At the same time The Agency is in talks with local municipalities in the south discussing the possibility of respite days for residents of the affected areas.
     
  • The Israel Trauma Coalition’s resilience centers continue to experience a significant increase in emergency calls. The Natal and Eran hotlines are operating at full capacity, 24 hours a day, and are currently reporting a 40% increase in call volume. Over 50% of calls are coming from the center of the country, 20% from the South and 15% from the North. Most calls are from anxious parents seeking guidance as to how to speak with their children about the situation. ITC instructions that provide recommendations on to how to help children cope in times of crisis, have been widely disseminated.

 

As always, JFNA’s Israel office remains in close touch with Israeli government authorities and our partners and is very closely monitoring the situation.

 

Sources: Office of the Prime Minister, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IDF Spokesperson, Israel Channel 12 News, Galei Tzahal Radio, the Jerusalem Post

 

November 12, 2019

Overnight, the IDF bombed a building in the Gaza Strip in a highly targeted strike which killed senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad Leader Bahaa Abu Al-Ata, as well as his wife.

  • The attack hit the specific room where Al-Ata was located, leaving the rest of the building undamaged.
  • Baha Abu Al Ata was a senior leader in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He was responsible for perpetrating the vast majority of terrorist attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip in 2019.
  • These terrorist attacks included a barrage of rocket fire. Between May 4 and May 5 2019, Israeli Memorial Day, the PIJ launched over 600 rockets at Israeli civilian centers, striking Israeli roads, homes, businesses, a kindergarten and hospital. Throughout 2019, over 800 rockets and mortar shells were launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
  • IDF photos of the Gaza attack, as well as additional background on Al-Ata can be seen here.
  • Security officials confirmed that after a green light from the security cabinet over a week ago, they identified a specific window of opportunity to strike Al Ata in his bed, without risking nearby civilians.
  • Netanyahu on the attack: "Terrorists think they can hit civilians and hide behind civilians. We showed that we can hit the terrorist with minimal damage to civilians. Anyone who thinks they can hit our civilians and get away with it is wrong. If you hit us we will hit you."
  • The IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said that al-Ata was the person who tried to undermine Israel's efforts to reach a ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. "In recent days he was working to perpetrate attacks against Israel. We tried to thwart his efforts in different ways without success and we then recommended a targeted killing."
  • In addition, another senior Islamic Jihad figure was attacked in Damascus, but details of that event are still unclear.

In response, more than 150 rockets have been fired at Israel over the last few hours (since 6:00 am Israel time) and the barrage continues – on almost a minute-by-minute basis - at the time of writing.

  • Sirens have continued to sound across the south, and as far north as Tel Aviv, Modi’in, Rishon L’Tzion, the Rehovot area and Holon.
  • An eight-year-old girl in Holon is in serious condition after suffering what seems to be heart failure while running to her shelter; and a 66-year old woman is in hospital suffering from shock. One man in Be’er Tuvia was lightly injured by shrapnel.
  • A house in Netivot was directly hit and has sustained major damage; but there were no injuries.
  • A factory in Sderot also sustained a direct hit, but there too there were no injuries.
  • Some other minor property damage has been reported, mainly in Sderot; but at this stage, most rockets have either fallen short or been destroyed by the Iron Dome, which has shot down more than 60 rockets in recent hours.
  • These video images (taken from a bus) show the terrifying moment that a rocket hit Highway 4.

The IDF’s Home Front Command (known in Hebrew as Pikud Ha’Oref) has issued some far-reaching orders:

  • All schools and kindergartens in the entire country south of Tel Aviv have been closed for the day.
  • In the south, all places of work have been closed, other than “essential services.”
  • In the Tel Aviv region, non-essential places of work are only permitted to open if they have a designated shelter or protected place that can be reached by workers within 90 seconds.
  • With schools and many work places closed, hundreds of thousands of workers remain at home (resulting in enormous cost to the economy).
  • Large cities in the south, including Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva have ordered public shelters to be opened, and have set up their Emergency Command Rooms.
  • Train services have been stopped in much of the south, and a number of roads have been closed.
  • See below for a photo of Home Front Command soldiers assisting in the evacuation of the children’s ward in Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
  • (In a sign of Israeli “gallows humor,” a meme is circulating in Hebrew that reads: “Well if schools are already closed, and it’s Tuesday, we may as well hold elections.”)

The Cabinet has been meeting with top military officials throughout the morning.

  • In an interesting issue of timing, Naftali Bennett officially became defense minister at 11am Israel time (in the middle of the crisis). Until then, Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to act as defense minister.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu and IDF chiefs have stated that they would like to prevent further escalation of the situation, but that they will do what is needed to defend Israel.
  • Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was informed of the targeted hit on Al-Atta before it took place.
  • At the time of writing, initial reports indicate that the IDF has begun attacking Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza in retaliation for the massive rocket barrage.

JFNA’s Israel office has activated emergency protocols and is in close touch with our partners and individual federation representatives on the ground.

  • There are currently no Federation missions travelling under JFNA auspices or Birthright groups in Israel.
  • Two JFNA-organized VIP visits are in Israel, but neither are in areas under fire, and the Israel office is in touch with both.
  • Jewish Agency absorption centers have begun operating in “emergency mode,” meaning that activities take place only within range of a shelter. The Agency is also reaching out to all programs to determine immediate needs.
  • JDC is also currently gathering information and assessing needs from the field.
  • The Israel Trauma Coalition’s resilience centers have naturally experienced a significant increase in emergency calls. One of the buildings where the resilience center operates (in Sderot) was hit and evacuated. There are no physical injuries reported, and workers continue to operate from a different location in the city.
  • Israel’s Emergency Coalition Roundtable (known by its Hebrew acronym “Rachel;” and of which JFNA is a partner) will convene the Civil Society Emergency Forum at 3pm Israel time.

As always, JFNA’s Israel office is in close touch with Israeli government authorities and our partners and is very closely monitoring the situation.

Sources: Office of the Prime Minister, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IDF Spokesperson, Israel Channel 12 News, Galei Tzahal Radio, the Jerusalem Post