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New Israel Fund Provides Special Assistance to Disadvantaged from North of Israel: Refugees Tell Their Stories from Relative Safety

4 August 2006

Washington, D.C. As the crisis in Israel wears on, the New Israel Fund is acting quickly to assist Israel’s most vulnerable people, and ensure their needs are met, their voices heard, and their rights respected.

The New Israel Fund (NIF) has long had a special relationship with marginalized and disadvantaged populations in the North, and the organization is making every effort to assist them, directly and through grantees. Having launched an Emergency ’06 fundraising campaign, NIF has already provided grants to 11 organizations operating in northern Israel . In addition, the Haifa staff of NIF’s capacity-building arm, SHATIL, continues to provide advisory services to the many organizations that have been affected by the crisis, and is coordinating activities among them.

NIF emergency response assistance has enabled hundreds of Israelis from the north to relocate away from the conflict zone.

“Since my neighbor was killed by a missile it’s been hard to relax,” said Amir Habib from Iblin, an Arab village near Haifa . “Last night after we got to Masada was the first proper sleep I’ve had in nearly two weeks.”

Roma Rosenblum from Nahariya, close to the Lebanese border, which has been hit by hundreds of missiles, tells a similar story of disabling anxiety. “Our apartment block was twice struck by rockets. We had no water because the pipes are damaged. If we hadn’t come here to Ashdod we would have gone crazy.”

Rosenblum, a new immigrant from the former Soviet Union and Habib, from a village without bomb shelters, are among hundreds of Israelis from the war-torn northern region belonging to population groups without access to the resources available to mainstream Israelis.

Youth Leadership for Israeli Arabs: Sitting amid the tranquility of the Dead Sea region, 30 youngsters from Iblin, an Arab village near Haifa , were able to relax for the first time in two weeks and discuss how the war situation affects them. NIF funded their stay in Masada during a period when dozens of missiles were falling each day near their homes, one of which killed a villager.

The trip was organized by NIF grantee Born to Live Proudly, which promotes young leadership programs in Arab villages and received emergency support for the activity. Most of the Iblin teenagers had never before been to the Dead Sea region and, on their first morning at Masada, they climbed the famous fortress to watch the sun rising over Jordan.

“The safety of these wide open spaces is just the tonic we needed,” said Habib, who is Director of Born to Live Proudly. “For the past two weeks, we’ve been sitting in our homes trembling in fear every time the sirens wail. We have no shelters and pray when we hear the whistle of the rockets that they will not fall on us. It’s a great relief to know that for the next few nights we won’t be woken at three in the morning by the siren.”

Habib recalls that when the fighting started last month life carried on as normal in Iblin. “And then one of our villagers, Habib Awad, was killed. He had gone to work in a nearby carpentry workshop. He was like an older brother to me. He lives 100 meters from me and I have known him since he was my scoutmaster.”

Among the 30 teenagers who spent time at the Masada Youth Hostel in early August was Rani Awad, the nephew of the man killed by a Hezbollah missile.

“He is choked by grief and has hardly spoken since his uncle’s death,” said Habib. “We wanted to take the kids away for a vacation. But there was nobody to help us. The local municipality has no funds and we are low down on the government priorities. Then we heard about the emergency aid from NIF and here we are.”

Eytan Dror is a Jewish kibbutznik who works as a volunteer with Born to Live Proudly and accompanied them to the Dead Sea. “At times like this our investment in coexistence is important,” he explained. “We have our disagreements over the situation but because we know each other, we can afford to argue and our friendship remains solid.”

Immigrant Self-Help: Kamilla Rosenblum has not had much to smile about recently. She had planned to celebrate her fifth birthday last week with a party for her class but then her family abandoned their Nahariya apartment and moved south to Ashdod after their block was twice hit by Hezbollah rockets. Kamilla was finally able to celebrate her birthday in Ashdod , when NIF grantee Esh David organized a birthday party for a dozen children being hosted by their community away from the barrage of missiles in their home towns.

Esh David, a Jewish Reform congregation of immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Ashdod , has also been given emergency support by NIF to assist “refugees” from the north. Like Israel ‘s Arab minority, the country’s Russian-speaking new immigrants have also been badly hit by the outbreak of fighting. Unlike more privileged Israelis they do not have the financial resources to take a vacation, nor do they have families and friends who can host them in the center of the country. In addition, this sector has a high percentage of single-parent families who have fewer resources to endure the current fighting.

“We are hosting 160 Russian-speaking people from the north at present,” said Elionara Mitnitsky, Executive Director of Esh David. “In addition to matching up applicants from the north looking for hosts in Ashdod , we provide bedding, food and other needs including transport to the beach and other sites.”

Among immigrant hosts in Ashdod are Ella Schuster and her two daughters Sonia and Lisa. “We had a spare room and it seemed a shame to leave it empty when there are so many people desperate to get away from the north.”

Thus the Schusters are hosting seven visitors from Carmiel – three generations of women from the same family. Their husbands have stayed behind in the Galilee fearing they might otherwise lose their jobs.

“In Carmiel we were stuck in the shelters the entire time,” explained Galia Bashtavoy. “Try explaining to small children that they cannot go outside.”

In Ashdod for more than two weeks the Carmiel visitors have been to the beach most days and were taken on trips by Esh David.

The Rosenblums are being hosted by the Perchirs in Ashdod . “The family members are very depressed about the situation in Nahariya,” explained Gregory Perchir. “It is not good. They need a lot of emotional support.”

“My wife Irena has been traumatized by the missiles,” said Roma Rosenblum. “She won’t go out even here in Ashdod . But I’m happy because at least my daughter is smiling again.”

The New Israel Fund Program

NIF’s emergency work falls into three broadly-defined areas:

  • Trauma: helping Israelis from the north cope with the danger, dislocations and disruptions engendered by the now three-week-old war
  • Economic assistance: giving strategies and voice to the most disadvantaged Israelis who are especially vulnerable now
  • Co-existence: SHATIL, together with the Abraham Fund, is working with Arab Israeli groups in the North to share and shape strategies and issues, and brainstorm for solutions; the first meeting took place on August 1 in Givat Haviva. NIF and the Abraham Fund have already placed Hebrew, Arabic and English ads in the Israeli press calling for understanding and co-existence among Jewish and Arab Israelis.

“We are not the largest organization striving to make a difference during this crisis, but we have a unique role to play,” said New Israel Fund Executive Director Larry Garber . “For as long as the crisis continues – and during what may be a long and difficult aftermath – we will partner with grantees to assist the “invisible Israelis.”


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