I am so grateful for the news that a ceasefire is currently in place -- that the fighting appears to be over. I know you join me in the prayer that it continues to hold and that diplomatic efforts will stop fighting from breaking out once again.
As the situation deteriorated a month ago, NIF established a Situation Room in Jerusalem to be able to respond quickly to developments. This team has been coordinating our efforts to address the deep tensions between Jews and Arabs within Israel, to care for Israelis living under rocket attack, and to ensure that Israeli human rights groups have what they need to do their jobs.
You can read about the Emergency Grants that NIF has approved during this crisis.
More information about our work, and the work of our partners, is also available.
Tomorrow morning, the staff in our Situation Room will meet again -- and assuming the ceasefire continues to hold -- their task will be to evaluate what activities need our urgent attention in the weeks and months ahead.
Even as this evaluation is underway, a few directions are clear:
- NIF will not abandon the residents of the south of Israel. They suffered enormous hardships. The Israeli government's decision not to formally label the fighting as a "war" limits their compensation rights. Moreover, budget cuts that the government may implement to offset the cost of the military action are likely to compound the challenges facing Israel's underprivileged.
- The war exposed -- and also exacerbated -- enormous tensions between Jewish and Arab Israelis. The level of distrust and of fear cannot be understated. NIF will address this, by connecting people and by fighting discrimination against Israel's minority populations.
- A wave of hostility towards Israelis expressing progressive positions has created an environment where dissent is seen as illegitimate and unpatriotic. Many are afraid to give voice to their political views for fear of violence or of retribution. Read today's New York Times article about this issue: Some Israelis Count Open Discourse and Dissent Among Gaza War Casualties. NIF is committed to upholding democratic principles, including freedom of speech and dissent. Our goal is to change the public discourse and to create a political environment that embraces equality and democracy.
- The legitimacy of Israel's human rights champions, who have the decidedly unpopular task of documenting government activity, is sure to be tarnished by the ultranationalist camp as they try to short-circuit debate within Israel about the appropriate use of force. NIF will not back away from our support of Israel's human rights community. Their role as a check and balance on potential abuses of power is too important to Israel's democracy.
It is hard to overestimate the fear that permeates political speech in Israel right now.
I heard from one colleague, who last night attended a tent rally of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum in Tel Aviv's Cinematheque Plaza. At the rally, families of victims pleaded for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. As she was leaving, she asked herself which exit would prove the safest route in light of peace protesters having been followed from recent demonstrations and assaulted: She could go out past the police barricade where she would be seen. Or she could exit out a side alley where she might not be noticed, but would also be less protected.
The question before us is crystal clear:
- Will Israelis emerge from this crisis recommitted to an open, tolerant, and shared society?
- Or will Israelis emerge from this crisis increasingly divided, fearful and distrustful of their fellow citizens, incited by calls for exclusion?
Thank you for your partnership in the effort to support equality and democracy in Israel.
Daniel Sokatch, CEO
New Israel Fund