Many Israelis are furious at their government’s chaotic recovery efforts after Hamas attack

Many Israelis are furious at their government’s chaotic recovery efforts after Hamas attack
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Israelis seek comfort in an installation consisting of 224 pillars of light erected by the Jerusalem municipality outside Teddy Stadium as a tribute for hostages abducted by Palestinian militants during the October 7 attack and currently held in the Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Many Israelis are furious at their government’s chaotic recovery efforts after Hamas attack
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Two people embrace as they stand between posters of hostages abducted by Palestinian militants during the October 7 attack and currently held in the Gaza Strip, placed next to light bulbs and spotlights outside Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on October 26, 2023. (AFP)Israelis seek comfort in an installation consisting of 224 pillars of light erected by the Jerusalem municipality outside Teddy Stadium as a tribute for hostages abducted by Palestinian militants during the October 7 attack and currently held in the Gaza Strip. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2023
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Many Israelis are furious at their government’s chaotic recovery efforts after Hamas attack

Many Israelis are furious at their government’s chaotic recovery efforts after Hamas attack
  • Government infighting and lack of help for those in need have left traumatized survivors to mourn on their own and volunteers to take on recovery efforts
  • Many believe the Netanyahu government neglected basic functions while it focused its efforts to weaken the Supreme Court 

JERUSALEM: More than two weeks after Hamas militants rampaged through a string of sleepy farming towns, many Israelis are furious at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, not just for failing to prevent the attack, but for failing to come to their aid afterward.
While the military is launching unrelenting airstrikes in Gaza that have killed thousands of Palestinians, and hundreds of thousands of Israeli troops are massing for a possible ground offensive, government infighting and lack of help for those in need have left traumatized survivors to mourn on their own and volunteers — many of whom spent the past year protesting the government — to take on recovery efforts.
“It has to be clear. The government is completely incompetent,” said Ruvi Dar, a clinical psychologist and Tel Aviv University professor who has been counseling survivors evacuated from their homes.
“Any support that the refugees are getting right now is completely grassroots. Absolutely nothing by the state,” he said, adding that even volunteers’ hotel rooms are paid for by nonprofit groups.
The backdrop to the outcry is the long-running and contentious plan by Netanyahu and his far-right government to sharply curtail the power of the nation’s judiciary, which sparked months of protests and consumed the Cabinet and the nation.
Many believe the government neglected basic functions while it focused its efforts on attacking the Supreme Court, which it accused of being liberal and interventionist.
Critics have accused Netanyahu of recklessly ignoring a raft of issues. The police force is understaffed, and the military was caught off guard on Israel’s southern flank as forces were more heavily stationed in the occupied West Bank, home to half a million settlers. The government did little to address the spiraling cost of living and rampant killings in Israel’s own Arab communities, while ultra-Orthodox Jewish and pro-settlement coalition partners have received billions of dollars for pet projects.
“Government offices haven’t been functioning for a year now, so obviously they can’t cope with emergency situations. They wasted a whole year on nonsense,” Arnon Bar David, head of Israel’s Histadrut trade union, told Army Radio.
The government faced public wrath almost immediately after being caught by surprise by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed more than 1,400 people, the vast majority civilians. It took hours for the stunned military to respond and send troops to counter-attack, a chaotic response that foreshadowed the government’s dysfunction.
Some government ministers have been blocked by residents from visiting attacked communities and others have been screamed at while visiting the wounded at hospitals.
Standing just feet from Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Ophir Shai’s eulogy for his brother, Yaron, turned into a furious attack on the government.
“You abandoned the soldiers of the IDF. You abandoned the people who live along the Gaza border. You abandoned the state of Israel. You abandoned my beloved brother. I expect you all to take responsibility and resign immediately after the war ends,” he said.
“I won’t forget, and I won’t forgive. I promise to hunt you down forever.”
Even after the initial massacre, the government was slow to respond and appeared in disarray. Israel’s public diplomacy minister, meant to serve as a spokeswoman to the international media, quit in a huff after her responsibilities were turned over to other ministries.
Polls show Netanyahu’s already plunging popularity has collapsed. While other members of the government and the heads of the army and the Shin Bet security service have apologized and taken responsibility for the attack, Netanyahu said nothing of the sort for weeks. Only Wednesday night, 18 days after the attack, did he come close to accepting some responsibility.
“This failure will be investigated thoroughly. Everyone will need to provide answers, myself included, but all of this will happen only after the war,” he said in a brief nationwide address.
Netanyahu also boasted of government assistance for victims, including mass evacuations from hard-hit border communities. “We will not leave anyone behind,” he said.
But Netanyahu has not publicly visited the wounded in hospitals, consoled traumatized evacuated families or gone to a funeral for any of those killed. He has made several public statements, mainly as he greeted world leaders offering support, and he has visited soldiers in the field. But he has not taken questions from Israel’s famously combative media.
Asked for comment, a senior Israeli official said the prime minister “met with families and is fully focused on winning the war.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
With over 200 people being held captive by Hamas militants in Gaza, he did not meet with any of their families until more than a week after the attack — two days after US President Joe Biden spoke to families of US citizens being held.
Meanwhile, Israeli media has reported about a string of government turf wars holding up assistance to victims’ families and evacuees displaced from their homes.
For two days after the attack, “the government wasn’t functioning. We didn’t get any help,” said Yossi Keren, who became head of the regional council in Sha’ar HaNegev, where many of the attacks took place, after his predecessor was killed confronting Hamas gunmen.
Most residents have evacuated, and their needs — everything from getting schooling for children to replacing computers families left behind — are enormous, he said. The government response is slowly getting better, though he remains wary.
“If the government won’t step in, the crisis will be bigger. Much bigger,” Keren said.
Danny Danon, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, acknowledged the government’s shortcomings.
“The government agencies were not capable of dealing with the numbers. So it took them some time to come back and to set up and provide the proper services,” he said. “Certainly it’s legitimate for the families to express their pain and criticism.”
He said there would be an inquiry into what went wrong after the war, but right now Israel must remain focused on defeating Hamas. “Netanyahu is very mission-oriented now in the war effort,” he said.
Gideon Rahat, a political science professor at Hebrew University, said the dysfunction was a result of a bloated, divisive government that demonized and then pushed out many respected bureaucrats who would have been competent to handle an emergency.
“When you are a populist government and all you do is talk and tweet and write posts instead of doing real things, when you are needed you don’t know what to do,” he said.
That vacuum in the current crisis has been filled by the government’s sworn enemies, opponents of the judicial overhaul who had mobilized tens of thousands of protesters for weekly demonstrations against the overhaul plan.
Less than 12 hours after the Oct. 7 attack, they sent teams of medical volunteers to hospitals to help with the wounded and deliver food to their families, said Oren Shvill, one of the group’s organizers. The next day, they started evacuating families and pairing them up with host families.
“Really fast, we managed to transform our organization from protesting to civilian aid,” he said. ”Everything we asked for, people just jumped on the mission.”
Now, they have 15,000 volunteers a day coordinated from logistics centers in Tel Aviv, near Gaza and in the north, where the army is fighting Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, he said. And they’ve been lauded as heroes in Israel.
They helped locate missing people; sent equipment to soldiers called to the Gaza border; shipped donated food, clothes, toys and medicine to the evacuees; and began coordinating an informal public relations operation for the country, Shvill said. They sent teachers and therapists to the evacuees’ hotels and set up operations there to answer their questions.
This week, they began sending volunteers to milk cows, pick tomatoes and cucumbers and plant potatoes at abandoned farms in the south.
“Everything we are doing should have been done by the government,” he said.
 


Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah
Updated 25 May 2024
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Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

KHAN YOUNIS: In a cowshed in Gaza’s Khan Younis, zookeeper Fathi Ahmed Gomaa has created a temporary home for dozens of animals, including lions and baboons, having fled with them from Israel’s offensive in Rafah.
“We’ve moved all the animals we had, except for three big lions that remain (in Rafah),” he said.
“I ran out of time and couldn’t move them.” Ahmed abandoned his zoo in Rafah when Israel ordered the evacuation of parts of the southern Gazan city.
Before the offensive, the city on the border with Egypt had been spared a ground invasion, and more than half of the Gaza Strip’s population was sheltering there.
Now, the Israeli offensive has sent more than 800,000 people fleeing from Rafah, according to the UN, with Gomaa and his family among them.
“I am appealing to the Israeli authorities: these animals have no connection to terrorism,” Gomaa said, saying he wanted their help in coordinating with aid agencies to rescue the lions left behind in Rafah.
He fears they won’t survive long on their own.
“Of course, within a week or 10 days, if we don’t get them out, they will die because they’ll be left with no food or water.”
Gomaa said he had already lost several of his animals to the war: “Three lion cubs, five monkeys, a newborn monkey, and nine squirrels.”
And while the squawking of parrots fills the air, many of Gomaa’s other birds are no longer with him.
“I released some of the dogs, some of the hawks and eagles, some of the pigeons, and some of the ornamental birds. I released many of them because we didn’t have cages to transport them.”
In the cowshed, Gomaa is making do with what he has, using improvised fencing to raise the heights of the pens so that their new inhabitants, spotted deer, can’t leap out.
Israeli troops began their assault on Rafah on May 7, defying widespread international concern for the safety of the 1.4 million civilians sheltering in the city.


EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say
Updated 25 May 2024
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EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

BRUSSELS: Talks on deploying a EU mission at the Rafah border crossing in Gaza are at a preliminary stage and the deployment will not happen without an end to the war between Israel and Hamas, a senior EU official said on Friday.
EU foreign ministers will hold their monthly meeting in Brussels on Monday, and discuss how to improve humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.
Two diplomats said the US had suggested the EU revive its EU Border Assistance Mission or EUBAM Rafah, which has not been operational since 2007, when Hamas seized full control of Gaza.
The crossing is the main entry point for aid from Egypt and has been closed since Israeli forces took control of it from the Gazan side nearly three weeks ago.
Rafah city is now fire in an Israeli military assault, which judges at the top UN court said on Friday should immediately halt.
“Even if we now have people on the ground talking to the different parties and seeing how it could be done, we are in a very preliminary part of the story,” said the senior official.
The official said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell could be mandated by the 27 members on Monday to come up with “some kind of operative conclusions that could allow the mission to deploy.”
He said a deployment could not happen “in the current circumstances, not in war circumstances.”
“We are talking about the future,” the official said.
Three EU diplomats said the discussion would be on the table, but there was nothing concrete to discuss. One said the proposal was a “long shot.”
The mission would need unanimous approval from EU member states. Also, EUBAM is a civilian mission, and given the potentially dangerous nature of the operation, personnel and equipment would need to be adapted.
Diplomats said that such a mission could go ahead only if Egypt and Israel were also in favor.
Two US officials said Washington was reviewing options to secure the opening of the Rafah crossing, but no definitive plans have been developed yet. Israel began its offensive in Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.


Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say
Updated 24 May 2024
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Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say
  • The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom“
  • The four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held

QAMISHLI, Syria: Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria said Friday that they had handed over a woman and three children to British representatives for repatriation, with a source saying they had been held in a camp for militants’ relatives.
Five years after the Daesh group was driven out of its last bastion in Syria, tens of thousands of the militants’ family members, including from Western countries, remain in detention camps in the Kurdish-controlled northeast.
The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom,” following a meeting with a British delegation led its Syria envoy Ann Snow.
A source within the administration told AFP the four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held.
Britain’s foreign ministry said UK officials had “facilitated the repatriation of a number of British nationals from Syria to the United Kingdom.”
“This repatriation is in line with the long-standing policy that all requests for UK consular assistance from Syria are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant circumstances including national security,” the spokesperson said.
On May 7, the United States announced it had brought back 11 Americans including five minors, as well as a nine-year-old non-US sibling of an American, from internment camps in northeastern Syria.
The United States in the same operation facilitated the repatriation of six Canadian citizens, four Dutch citizens and one Finnish citizen, eight of them children, Secretary of state Antony Blinken said.
And in December, the Kurdish administration handed over to Britain a woman and five children who had also been held in a camp.
Despite repeated appeals by the Kurdish authorities, a number of Western countries have refused to take back their citizens from the camps.
Among the most high profile cases is that of Shamima Begum, a former Briton stripped of her citizenship after leaving the country aged 15 to marry an Daesh group fighter.


Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri
Updated 24 May 2024
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Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri
  • Parliamentary speaker accuses Israel of ‘greed’ over Lebanese resources
  • Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day

BEIRUT: Lebanon is willing to cooperate with any international effort to stop Israeli aggression and bring security to the region, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said on Friday.
However, in a statement marking the 24th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Berri warned that Lebanon “is not ready to waive any of its sovereign rights.”
He also accused Israel of displaying “greed toward Lebanon, its resources, its entity, and its land, sea, and air borders.”
Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day.
The parliamentary speaker called for intensified international and regional efforts to halt Israel’s assault in the Gaza Strip, saying this was crucial to maintain security and stability in the entire region.
Hezbollah claims its actions have been in support of Gaza amid further Israeli threats to Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Thursday from the northern command headquarters “to carry out detailed, important and even surprising plans to return displaced settlers to the north.”
He claimed Israel had killed hundreds of Hezbollah fighters.
Benny Gantz, a minister in the Israeli war Cabinet, said: “Get ready from now on for the return of the residents of the north to their houses safely in early September by force or order.”
Berri returned from Tehran after attending the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash on May 19.
In his message to the Lebanese, he renewed Lebanon’s “commitment and adherence to UN Resolution 1701, and all its terms and stipulations.”
The resolution calls for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon to be replaced by Lebanese and UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, and the disarmament of armed groups including Hezbollah.
Berri accused Israel of ignoring the resolution “since the moment it was issued, with over 30,000 land, sea and air violations.”
Lebanon “upholds its right to defend its land with all the available means in the face of Israeli hostilities,” he said.
He called for the liberation of “the remaining occupied territory in the Kfarchouba Hills, the occupied Shebaa Farms, the northern part of the GHajjar village, and the contested border points with occupied Palestine all the way to the B1 point in Ras Al-Naqoura.”
Caretaker Minister of Defense Maurice Slim said that Lebanon preferred peace to war.
However, “defending the land was and will be the Lebanese state’s choice through the resilience of its army and people, especially the steadfast ones who are still residing in their villages and towns to repel the aggression,” he said.
Israeli warplanes on Thursday struck the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the Bint Jbeil district.
Sirens sounded in Israeli settlements opposite the border with Lebanon amid fears of possible drone attacks.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Friday that Hezbollah’s drones caused significant damage in the northern towns and resulted in several fatalities.
Another newspaper, Israel Hayom, said that Hezbollah’s drones are “one of the biggest threats facing Israel in the northern arena.”
The newspaper said that Hezbollah leader Mohammed Hassan Fares, who was killed by an Israeli drone strike last week in Qana, was a scientist who specialized in robotics and machine learning.


2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council
Updated 24 May 2024
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2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council
  • Palestinians ‘actively deprived’ of essential items as Israel steps up operations in city
  • Some in Gaza have been displaced as many as 9 times since October

LONDON: The Norwegian Refugee Council has warned that 2,000 aid trucks are stuck in Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, with Palestinians in Gaza being “actively deprived” of essential goods.
Rafah is the last remaining area of Gaza yet to come under full assault by Israeli forces, with fears now mounting of an imminent operation to take the southern city.
The NRC’s head of operations in Gaza, Suze van Meegen, told the BBC: “The city of Rafah is now comprised of three entirely different worlds: the east is an archetypal war zone, the middle is a ghost town, and the west is a congested mass of people living in deplorable conditions.”
She said medical supplies, tents, water tanks and food are being held up at the border, and in some cases Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced as many as nine times since Israel launched its military operation last October.
“People have no choice but to put their faith in so-called ‘humanitarian safe zones’ designated by the forces that have killed their family members and destroyed their homes,” she added.
Israeli journalist Amos Harel told the BBC that he believes Israel is moving ahead with plans to occupy Rafah with tacit US support.
“It’s quite clear that the Americans are no longer trying to prevent Israel from occupying Rafah. So the Israelis may proceed carefully and not too quickly. But it’s less of a question of whether the Israelis are going to occupy Rafah. It’s quite clear that they are,” he said.
It comes despite earlier warnings by US President Joe Biden against Israel attacking “population centers,” and with the International Court of Justice set to rule on the legality of the Israeli campaign in Gaza after a case was submitted by South Africa in December accusing Israel of genocide.