(Photo: Reuters/Amir Cohen)
An interfaith group that brings Christians and Jews together for common goals, including the support of Israel, announced on Friday that it will increase its funding of emergency aid for families in southern Israel. Rocket attacks on cities in southern Israel occurred this week and are said to be continuing as the IDF launches a wide assault on what it describes as "terror activity sites" and military infrastructure in Gaza Strip.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) said that $2.7 million in funds will go to an emergency and security aid package that includes supplies for the people in communities under fire, including Netivot, Sderot, Kiryat Malachi, Kiryat Gat, Sdot Negev, and Eshkol.
"With 20 percent of the nation's people in bomb shelters today, improving the security of the residents of the south is a vital priority for The Fellowship," said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and CEO of The Fellowship. "The untenable situation of more than 1 million residents living under constant threat of rocket fire must top the list of concerns of every friend of Israel. We are working hand-in-hand with the Israel Ministry for Home Front Defense and the IDF, and we will continue to cooperate to ensure the security of Israel's people."
The assistance includes basic supplies for children and families and the elderly in shelters, including food, medicine, diapers, blankets, mattresses, and generators. Also, the money is designated for helping with the evacuation of families left homeless, generators for emergency command centers, and renovation of bomb shelters.
Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter told the Jerusalem Post that The Fellowship's contribution would "enable communities to be active, whether in the form of emergency teams or the provision of emergency services such as health clinics and fortified public shelters ... I applaud Rabbi Eckstein's move, which will directly affect the million residents of the South."
The $2.7 million in emergency assistance is in addition to a series of projects costing $5.6 million that The Fellowship has funded during the past year to strengthen the emergency security system in Israel.
Israel has carried out some 800 airstrikes since launching its military campaign Wednesday in response to days of heavy rocket fire from Gaza. Palestinian militants have fired over 500 rockets against the Jewish state and on Friday, they targeted Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv heartland for the first time with new, longer-ranger weapons. Israeli officials say the more sophisticated rockets were smuggled by Hamas from Iran and Libya.
Eckstein of The Fellowship said in a letter posted Thursday on the group's website that the rockets fired at Jerusalem "mark a dramatic escalation of hostilities."
"Earlier this week, Israel struck back hard against the terrorists by launching a military campaign, dubbed 'Operation Pillar of Defense,' to stop the terrorists once and for all. The cost of the incessant, brutal terrorist war on Israel is incalculable. Today, it was paid in Israeli blood when rockets struck in the city of Kiryat Malachi, killing three Israelis and including an expectant mother – in their own homes. It could happen again. As Israel's Ambassador to the U.S, Michael Oren, recently noted, the fact that rockets are striking as far away from Gaza as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem means that four and a half million Israelis – more than half of Israel's population – live in the line of fire."
In the conclusion of his letter he wrote: "I ask you to pray today for them, for strength and protection for all of Israel, and for comfort for the victims of these cowardly, deadly attacks. Even in the midst of war, let us continue to pray for the day when God will bless us with His most precious of gifts – the gift of shalom, peace."
The U.S. Department of State has condemned the attacks from Gaza into Israel. Spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement Wednesday, "We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel's right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.
"Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self-determination."
President Barack Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to self-defense and discussed possible ways to scale back the conflict, according to The Associated Press.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was founded in 1983 by Eckstein to promote understanding between Jews and Christians and build broad support for Israel and other shared concerns.
"Our ministry's vision is that Jews and Christians will reverse their 2,000-year history of discord and replace it with a relationship marked by dialogue, respect, and cooperation," The Fellowship states.
On the Web: http://www.ifcj.org/