Jeri Zimmerman, director of Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas, recently returned from a visit to Philadelphia's Partnership 2000 communities of Netivot and Sedot Negev. Zimmerman wanted to see firsthand how area residents — many of whom are living in the direct line of attack from Kassam missiles — are coping with escalating violence.
While riding in a Jeep with Rafi Babayan, the head of security for Sedot Negev, she received her answer in the piercing cry of a "red alert" siren, sounded in response to a rocket attack on Sapir College. "It was terrifying to watch people abandon their cars and run to shelters," she said. Babayan told Zimmerman that these sirens sound frequently in Sedot Negev, where two kibbutzim — Alumim and Sa'ad — are situated adjacent to Israel's border with Gaza.
Their locations, according to Babayan, make them prime targets of rocket fire from Hezbollah and Hamas.
Netivot is not immune from these terrorist threats. Residents there have been hit by fire from long-range Katyusha Grad missiles, similar to the weapons used by Hamas in the March 3 strikes upon Ashkelon, which destroyed the apartment of an Israel Defense Force senior officer and crashed into a playground just meters from a kindergarten classroom. More than 20 people were injured in these strikes.
In this atmosphere of tension, Netivot Mayor Yehiel Zohar and Sedot Negev Mayor Meir Yifrach presented Zimmerman with an urgent request for financial assistance in enhancing security throughout the region.
"It is very clear to us, based on the experience of the Second Lebanon War, that our municipality is ultimately responsible for the security of our citizens," said Zohar, adding that "we are determined to train our emergency personnel for all possible scenarios, developing plans for the treatment of citizens in the event of a terrorist attack; evacuation plans; and a system of distribution for water, food and other necessities, with special consideration for the needs of our elderly population and our citizens with special needs."
Zohar also outlined plans to establish a resiliency center in Netivot to provide first response emergency treatment to victims of terrorist attacks.
Sedot Negev Mayor Yifrach expressed deep concern for the safety of residents of the 16 communities under the jurisdiction of the Sedot Negev Council.
"Since 2002, eight of these communities — agricultural kibbutzim and moshavim — have experienced more than 2,200 Kassam missile attacks in close proximity to where they live and work," said Yifrach, adding that 74 missiles were launched directly onto the premises. To protect these settlements, the council has mobilized alert teams, emergency-response teams and volunteers that are coordinated by Babayan, who is in ongoing contact with police and army representatives.
Yifrach asked Federation for additional security equipment, including U-Haul trucks with emergency lighting, water containers, and emergency and evacuation equipment to enhance their efforts.
Upon her return to Philadelphia, Zimmerman met with center co-chairs I Michael Coslov and Cindy Smukler Dorani, who presented the mayors' proposals to the center's board of directors. They approved emergency allocations of $120,000 to Netivot to purchase an emergency generator, which will provide power in the event of a total electrical blackout; a mobile light-ing unit; water containers and portable drinking units for its emergency warehouse and municipal emergency headquarters; and surveillance cameras throughout the city. Funding was also provided to erect perimeter fences around three community schools.
The allocation of $171,200 to Sedot Negev will enable the council to purchase emergency equipment for extended stays in bomb shelters; outfit emergency teams with flak jackets, multi-layered helmets and other protective equipment; upgrade the communications system at the central emergency headquarters; and provide security personnel on each agricultural settlement with MIRS wireless phones.
In addition to these allocations, the center board approved funding for two reinforced bus shelters specially designed by Operation Lifeshield architects and engineers in coordination with the Israel Defense Force's Homefront Command. These shelters provide safety and protection from rocket shrapnel/fragmentation and direct hits from Kassam missiles.
"In times of crisis, Philadelphians have steadfastly supported its Partnership 2000 communities," said Coslov, citing nearly $2.9 million in allocations made to Netivot and Sedot Negev from the Israel Emergency Fund.
Smukler Dorani explained that "these funds helped to secure kindergartens with fencing and distress buttons, provided armored vans for school transportation, installed air-conditioning units in bomb shelters, established crisis-intervention and emergency-response centers, acquired supplies for central emergency storerooms and shelters, and implement countless other programs to enhance security in the region."
If you are interested in supporting Federation's Partnership 2000 communities of Netivot and Sedot Negev, call Jeri Zimmerman at 215-832-0553.