Saturday, August 19, 2006

Israel's Katrina? Government AWOL in Shelled Northern Towns; Volunteers to the Rescue

Now that the fighting in Lebanon has ceased, practically no time elapsed before the public turned its anger on its own government. Much had to do with the the decision-making process by the government and the army. That will be left for others to argue.

What is very much in contention here is why were tens of thousands of Israelis left to fend for themselves, staying in bomb shelters along the northern border, short of provisions, scared and traumatized, as nearly 4000 missiles from Hizbollah were fired into Israeli territory.

Why weren't people evacuated until the last few days of the war? Why wasn't the government better prepared to meet the challenge of the "home front"? How could so many people - elderly, sick and poor - been left to fend for themselves.

Some critics in Israel have called this "Israel's Katrina." Here, in one of the world's most developed countries - with state-of-the-art communication and technology - one-third of Israel's population was left unattended by its own government. Those who could afford to , or who had families in other parts of the country, were able to leave the northern front towns and cities. But many others could not. Just 100 miles north of Tel Aviv, where life went on much as normal, countless Israeli citizens were stuck in cramped and hot bomb shelters, or trying to keep their sanity and safety amid the air raids and missile attacks.

The common perception - underscored by media reports from the northern zone - is that the government was AWOL for much of its populace.

Local muncipalities, better known for their inefficiency and bureaucratic bloat, took up much of the slack.

If there is anything take comfort in during this crisis, it is the efforts of thousands of Israelis, who volunteered - either at home or in the northern front - to help improve the lives of so many from of their embattled countrymen. Here are a few examples, based on personal experience:

*Friends in Herzliya were among the many Israelis who took in "refugees" from the North, people they didn't know, and found room for them in their homes.

*The Jewish Agency, which brought youngsters from the North to camps in the center and southern regions. It also brought air conditioners and provisions to bomb shelters. These activities, thanks to funds raised overseas in emergency drives.

*The daughter of another friend, a sometime actress, who donned a clown suit and spent 10 days in Safed, entertaining the children in the bomb shelters.

*The Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv, and other cultural organizations, which offered free entry to all residents of the north, who had taken refuge in the region.

*Two hairdressers who went to Kiryat Shmona, the city along the Lebanese border which was the most damaged by missiles. There, they went from bomb shelter to bomb shelter where they provided free service - and comfort - to many local residents.

*Hundreds of Israelis who packed their cars with food and other provisions, drove to the northern towns almost daily, to make personal deliveries to those who couldn't leave.

*Well-known singers and entertainers who travelled to the front, performing in bomb shelters.

These are only a few of the countless selfless acts and deeds that were taken by Israelis in response to the crisis. Yes, there were fund-raisers, concerts, radio and telethons on behalf of the embattled residents of the northern region. But it is these direct acts of good will that stand out as well worth remembering.


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