Dear friend --
Many of us heard NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch speak during his visit to Australia in June. You can read here a report Daniel sent us this week from Israel about some of the work being done by Shatil and NIF, its partners and grantees during the current fighting.
We have learned since of further NIF supported activity, including grants to the Conservative youth movement, Noa’m, to the Reform movement schools and youth, to community organisations in Ofakim and the Bedouin town of Rahat, and to Bina (at Merchavim Chevra Lechinuch Vetarbut) activists and volunteers, to fund activities for children in shelters, respite visits from the south to places like Haifa, Tel Aviv and Modi’in, clean up of property damaged by missile strikes, and packages for children in the south, for families unable to work their fields, and for soldiers and reservists near the Gaza strip.
Israel has an indisputable right, indeed obligation, to protect all its citizens, of every religion and ethnicity, against attack. But this fresh outbreak of extensive violence, only four years after Operation Cast Lead, reemphasises that political solutions, not merely military means, are needed to secure Israel’s long term peace and security.
We are concerned about the millions of Israelis and Palestinians living in fear in the conflict zone and the growing number of civilian casualties. In the densely populated region of Gaza and southern/coastal Israel, civilian casualties are both tragic and inevitable, and additional reason to hope that a sustainable ceasefire may be achieved soon.
As the leading supporter of Israel’s human rights community, NIF is proud that the IDF, in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, used reports from Israeli human rights organisations to change its operational procedures better to protect civilian lives and property, and we hope that those changes and observance by the IDF of its own code of conduct will now save lives.
The right to think critically and independently is often a casualty of war, even in a democracy. After Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s human rights community were threatened and vilified and it is happening again from the usual quarters. As in conflict anywhere, it is the responsibility of human rights groups to monitor and report, and it is their right and everyone’s to offer opinions regarding the conduct of the conflict. While NIF does not necessarily agree with the positions of every one of the many organisations it supports, it staunchly defends their right to do their jobs, to dissent from the majority if that is indicated by their own analyses, and to point out any controversial issues of concern.
The New Israel Fund’s mission, of fostering the values of equality, freedom and justice, is made more difficult in wartime. With the help of its supporters in Australia and worldwide, NIF will continue to support the Israelis who need it most, to speak out for the best universal and Jewish values, and to work on the ground for the Israel we all believe to be possible.
President, New Israel Fund Australia Foundation
Below is a message from Daniel Sokatch, NIF CEO:
Dear friend --
Like you, I’m following the news of the current fighting very closely. The loss of life and the palpable suffering is gut-wrenching. And none of us can know how long the fighting will continue.
Our Israeli staff on the ground are hard at work seeking to help see Israel’s most vulnerable through this terrible crisis. They are doing this under trying conditions. Our Beersheva office is closed for the time being, with many of our staff having moved north or east to relative safety, although some have stayed in their homes despite the frequent attacks. And while the office is closed, they continue to do the work. They report that the emergency response in urban areas is better than it was four years ago during Operation Cast Lead. Nevertheless, in the more underprivileged places, daily life is harder, with immigrants and other marginalized populations facing more problems.
NIF is mobilized for this crisis. Here’s a quick, partial report of some of the work being done by our staff and partner organizations:
1. A number of the organizations we support are working to ensure that the Israelis living under the greatest threat of attack are cared for. Activities include: arranging hospitality for those wanting to leave the South, providing information in Russian and Amharic to immigrant populations living near Gaza about how to stay safe, ensuring that African refugees living in south Tel Aviv know what to do when a siren sounds, and continuing (and even expanding) food distributions to poor Bedouin families.
2. In partnership with ACRI (the Association for Civil Rights in Israel), we stand ready to protect the freedoms of expression, assembly, and dissent. In every society, there is a risk that civil liberties will be infringed upon during times of war, and efforts to malign the human rights community have already begun. We are committed to defending the rights of all Israelis to express their opinions, even in these trying times.
3. We’ve established a "Situation Room" to monitor reports coming in from our staff and partner organizations, so that we can respond quickly to emerging needs. For instance, we’ve heard from Ethiopian organizations that need help to set up an “operations room” to coordinate assistance and information within that community.
4. We are acting as a liaison between our partner groups and the Civil Society desk established in the National Emergency Authority, in which SHATIL takes part.
In these difficult days I continue to be inspired by the dedication and professionalism of our colleagues in Israel. In this spirit, allow me to share with you a message that one of our staff members -- Gili Baruch -- who lives in Kibbutz Urim (7.5 km from the Gaza border) circulated to her colleagues:
“I am asking you to join me in keeping on believing. Believing that this can be changed, that we all should keep on working, together, for a better region, as it is every person's right to live peacefully.”
I can’t think of a more appropriate sentiment for this moment.