On Sunday, I went down to Soroka hospital in Be’er Sheva and met with families of Bedouin Israelis whose children have been injured by rocket attacks. I saw children coping with injuries they could not comprehend. I saw young parents comforting their kids.
It was important for me to go, to support these families, to let them know that despite the tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel today, that there are many of us committed to building a shared future. With me was another face of the New Israel Fund, Sultan Abu Abaid, a Bedouin Israeli who heads our office in Be’er Sheva.
We also went to visit some of the soldiers wounded during the operation who don’t have family living in Israel. However, these soldiers have been inundated with other visitors — everyday Israelis, politicians, artists, media personalities — and the hospital decided to limit the number of visitors to them.
I must say that some of the soldiers now in harm’s way, and even a few of the casualties, are relatives of NIF staff or of our partner organizations. Whatever our views about the war, all of us here live with the fear that the next military casualty might be someone we know.
These are some of the families we met:
Three-month old Aiya is in intensive care after a hit to the head. Her father was killed, while her mother and 1 ½ year old brother survived without harm. I cannot tell you how hard it is to see Aiya’s mother, who herself looks like a child, next to the bed of her own child, whose future is so uncertain.
Eleven year old Maram suffered severe damage to her stomach and kidneys from shrapnel which fell next to her house near Lakiya. While her 13-year old sister, who also had shrapnel wounds, has already been released from the hospital, Maram still needs more medical treatment.
Any child injured in an act of terror is outrageous. But the story of these children is particularly difficult because they were not offered the same protection that most of their fellow Israelis have from rocket attacks: a bomb shelter. In many Bedouin towns there is not even an alarm system to alert them to incoming rockets.
NIF is committed to the principles of equality and democracy for all Israelis. And we are keenly aware of how the military conflict is tearing at the bonds that existed between Jewish and Arab Israelis. One factor driving a wedge between Jews and Arabs is the sense that most Jews in the Negev are protected while many Bedouin are not.
It’s no coincidence then that our flagship grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has taken legal action to pressure the Israeli government to address these security needs.
It’s also no coincidence that NIF — right now, especially now — is pumping resources into efforts that seek to end discrimination and to build stronger ties among Jews and Arabs within Israel.
We’ve been able to do this via our Emergency Grant program, which relies on funds we set aside at the start of every year to respond to unforeseen circumstances. At the start of last week, we’d found that those funds had been nearly exhausted and we anticipated that we would need an additional $100,000 or more from our emergency pool for initiatives to foster unity and fight extremism as the war goes on.
There is incredible good news on this front: Our supporters have stepped up with nearly $70,000 in the last 10 days to help meet that need.
I cannot thank you enough for being part of the New Israel Fund family. One day — hopefully soon — this fighting will end, and Israelis will once again look inward. On that day, it is these efforts that will enable us to live together in a truly shared society.
The children I visited on Sunday, and my own grandchildren, will grow up together as part of the same society. What we do today can have a profound impact on the Israel they will inherit from us.
Thank you for standing with us.
Executive Director in Israel