Staff members of the Greater MetroWest Jewish federation visited its partnership communities in southern Israel July 25, assessing their needs as Israel’s war in nearby Gaza extended into its third week.
Leading the delegation on the tour of Ofakim, Merchavim, and Kibbutz Erez was Amir Shacham, the federation’s associate executive vice president for Israel and overseas.
Joining him were Michal Zur, the federation’s community connections director; Noga Maliniak, director of the federation’s operations in the Negev region; and Moshe Levi, community shaliah, or emissary.
“The purpose of the visit was to connect with our partners and check on the situation, to show solidarity, and bring them the message that we are with them,” Shacham said. “The situation is not good.”
The most severely affected of the three spots is Erez, where a Hamas-built tunnel was discovered in a field not far from the kibbutz.
“This is a game changer,” said Shacham. “You can imagine how frightening it is to think that someone is in a tunnel beneath your dining room or your living room, trying to kill your family.”
Prior to the start of Operation Protective Edge, the people of Erez “had felt secure with the safe rooms and bomb shelters we helped build. But now the threat is different. In Erez, many residents are afraid to raise their families there.
“We had a brainstorming session with the leaders of the kibbutz,” said Shacham, “to figure out how this new reality will affect the kibbutz and how we as Greater MetroWest partners can assist.”
While no tunnels have been located near Ofakim or Merchavim, the town and surrounding moshavim are still under rocket attack by Hamas.
But Shacham and his delegation found people’s spirits and resilience “very uplifting. They are organized very well. The emergency campaign was very important but their main need is creating protective environments — safe rooms and bomb shelters. Many have to be renovated because they had been neglected for many years.”
While he said Israel “had no choice but to go into Gaza with both air force and ground forces,” Shacham told NJJN, “I personally don’t think more military power and invasion and killing more people will solve the problem.”
He believes it will take diplomatic as well as military efforts to resolve the conflict.
“The bottom line to my mind is a mix of a difficult military operation with some diplomatic negotiations that should include Egypt and the Palestinian Authority and maybe other Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. The strategic map of the Middle East is changing and suddenly we see on our side countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority against Hamas. We need a coalition of ‘the good guys.’”
Shacham’s son is a reservist stationed in Hebron.
As Shacham and other Israelis watched television reports of the deaths and devastation in Gaza, he said, “it breaks our hearts. It is terrible. However, Hamas is operating from within homes and schools and mosques. It is clear that a lot of civilians will be killed in this operation, and this is the price that we are all paying for letting Hamas do what it does.”