Just before noon yesterday, the IDF launched an aerial operation against Hamas in Gaza. The decision for this operation was taken following the recent escalation in rockets and mortars launched against Southern settlements and the widening of the fire to Ashkelon, Ashdod, Netivot and Kiryat-Gat. The IDF is primarily attacking Hamas military targets, especially scores of launching sites used to fire hundreds of Kassam and Grad rockets against the communities in Southern Israel.
In the aftermath, 80 rockets were fired at Israel one of them killing Beber Vaknin, a 58 year old, Israeli citizen of Netivot living in one of our Amigour
public apartments, and wounding many others. Tens of thousands of residents of these communities are now living in shelters and in protected rooms.
Once the IDF operation became known, the Jewish Agency immediately mobilized in order to assist our six absorption centers in the south, which house some 1500 immigrant families and young people currently participating in Jewish Agency programs in Israel. I spoke personally with absorption center directors, all present at the centers despite Shabbat. I learnt about the immediate deployment in the field and reinforced staffing in order to provide all needed assistance to the Olim and young people. Representatives from the Aliyah & Integration Department headquarters were in the south working with the center directors to solve problems as they arose. Emergency lines to allow immigrants and youngsters to call their families abroad and update them on their situation; personnel, who provide emotional and psychological assistance during these difficult hours, were also made available for them.
I would like to strengthen the spirit of our staff on the front lines: Soni Zinger, Director of the Ibim
Youth Village, Aliza Yarden, Director of Kalanit
Absorption Center in Ashkelon, Eli Goldshmidt, Director of Barnea
Absorption Center in Ashkelon, Adena Tadela, Director of Shoshana
Absorption Center in Ashdod, and Asher Seyum, Director of Beit Canada
Absorption Center in Ashdod, and all their staff for their devotion and dedication to the Olim in general and at this time particularly. We are privileged to have them as employees of the Jewish Agency.
has also immediately deployed to deal with the emergency. Branches in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim were opened and staffed with employees who were ready to provide any assistance to the residents of some 9500 apartments and sheltered housing units in the area. All bomb shelters and protected spaces were opened and readied for the use of the residents. I wish to thank all Amigour
employees for their devoted activity on behalf of residents in the south.
Friends, this is not an easy hour for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. For eight years, the civil population in the Western Negev, Sderot and the area surrounding Gaza has lived a terrible routine of daily rockets and mortars, a routine that has caused the loss of many lives, hundreds of wounded, and countless cases of trauma. This is aside from physical damage and destruction to hundreds of homes, businesses and public property such as schools and day care centers. This situation has been very detrimental to all economic life in the area causing the closing of hundreds of small businesses, resulting in unemployment and the disruption of social and cultural life. Many area residents have evacuated their homes, some in order to recover, others permanently. Life became unbearable for them and for the children who have grown up with sirens and "red color" alerts.
Thanks to our overseas partners the Jewish Agency has for many years stood at the side of these brave citizens providing a wide variety of assistance including providing respite activities for children and adults in the center of Israel, scholarships for the students "Sapir" College, aid to small businesses, training of first aid teams and first aid equipment, therapeutic activities for residents, empowerment of youth, and musical and cultural events in the area.
I would especially like to emphasize the important role played by our Fund for Victims of Terror, by granting immediate emergency assistance to families whose homes were damaged, allowing them to quickly regroup following an attack. The Fund was established by the Israel Emergency Fund of the United Jewish Communities and has been supported by Jewish federations, Keren Hayesod communities, foundations and individuals as well as providing support for all the activities described above. I wish to express my appreciation for all those who stand with us, in this important task of easing the distress of the residents of Southern Israel
The State of Israel is never happy to go to battle. In our effort to maintain quiet in the south, we have tried everything, including the evacuation of the settlements in Gush Katif, to no avail. Neither were we able to bring home Gilad Shalit held by Hamas for more than 30 months. Israel had no choice other than to launch a military operation and to severely wound Hamas, one of the cruelest terrorist organizations, supported by Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In the coming days we expect extremist elements to launch a worldwide propaganda campaign against Israel, propagating lies and misrepresentations.
This is a time for every one of you, our friends in the Jewish communities and non-Jewish friends of Israel to act as ambassadors on behalf of the residents of Southern Israel. We need you to make sure that their voices are heard, and the world knows about their distress. Many of you visited these communities and personally experienced the impossible living conditions of the residents, the children and the elderly in the area. Help us in the Jewish Agency continue to assist the residents in the south, to embrace them by conveying the commitment of the Jewish world to ease their plight.
As this may be a difficult and lengthy period for the State of Israel, your assistance and the fact that you stand with us is a source of strength. Together we pray for the peace and safety of the State of Israel, its citizen and its soldiers.
Yours in Friendship,