Update from The Jewish Federation of North America:
As you are probably aware, there has been a major flare-up in violence between Israel and Gaza in recent hours. Here are the major points:
Overnight, the IDF bombed a building in the Gaza Strip in a highly targeted strike which killed senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad Leader Bahaa Abu Al-Ata, as well as his wife.
- The attack hit the specific room where Al-Ata was located, leaving the rest of the building undamaged.
- Baha Abu Al Ata was a senior leader in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He was responsible for perpetrating the vast majority of terrorist attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip in 2019.
- These terrorist attacks included a barrage of rocket fire. Between May 4 and May 5 2019, Israeli Memorial Day, the PIJ launched over 600 rockets at Israeli civilian centers, striking Israeli roads, homes, businesses, a kindergarten and hospital. Throughout 2019, over 800 rockets and mortar shells were launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
- IDF photos of the Gaza attack, as well as additional background on Al-Ata can be seen here.
- Security officials confirmed that after a green light from the security cabinet over a week ago, they identified a specific window of opportunity to strike Al Ata in his bed, without risking nearby civilians.
- Netanyahu on the attack: "Terrorists think they can hit civilians and hide behind civilians. We showed that we can hit the terrorist with minimal damage to civilians. Anyone who thinks they can hit our civilians and get away with it is wrong. If you hit us we will hit you."
- The IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said that al-Ata was the person who tried to undermine Israel's efforts to reach a ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. "In recent days he was working to perpetrate attacks against Israel. We tried to thwart his efforts in different ways without success and we then recommended a targeted killing."
- In addition, another senior Islamic Jihad figure was attacked in Damascus, but details of that event are still unclear.
In response, more than 150 rockets have been fired at Israel over the last few hours (since 6:00 am Israel time) and the barrage continues – on almost a minute-by-minute basis - at the time of writing.
- Sirens have continued to sound across the south, and as far north as Tel Aviv, Modi’in, Rishon L’Tzion, the Rehovot area and Holon.
- An eight-year-old girl in Holon is in serious condition after suffering what seems to be heart failure while running to her shelter; and a 66-year old woman is in hospital suffering from shock. One man in Be’er Tuvia was lightly injured by shrapnel.
- A house in Netivot was directly hit and has sustained major damage; but there were no injuries.
- A factory in Sderot also sustained a direct hit, but there too there were no injuries.
- Some other minor property damage has been reported, mainly in Sderot; but at this stage, most rockets have either fallen short or been destroyed by the Iron Dome, which has shot down more than 60 rockets in recent hours.
- These video images (taken from a bus) show the terrifying moment that a rocket hit Highway 4.
The IDF’s Home Front Command (known in Hebrew as Pikud Ha’Oref) has issued some far-reaching orders:
- All schools and kindergartens in the entire country south of Tel Aviv have been closed for the day.
- In the south, all places of work have been closed, other than “essential services.”
- In the Tel Aviv region, non-essential places of work are only permitted to open if they have a designated shelter or protected place that can be reached by workers within 90 seconds.
- With schools and many work places closed, hundreds of thousands of workers remain at home (resulting in enormous cost to the economy).
- Large cities in the south, including Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva have ordered public shelters to be opened, and have set up their Emergency Command Rooms.
- Train services have been stopped in much of the south, and a number of roads have been closed.
- See below for a photo of Home Front Command soldiers assisting in the evacuation of the children’s ward in Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
- (In a sign of Israeli “gallows humor,” a meme is circulating in Hebrew that reads: “Well if schools are already closed, and it’s Tuesday, we may as well hold elections.”)
The Cabinet has been meeting with top military officials throughout the morning.
- In an interesting issue of timing, Naftali Bennett officially became defense minister at 11am Israel time (in the middle of the crisis). Until then, Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to act as defense minister.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu and IDF chiefs have stated that they would like to prevent further escalation of the situation, but that they will do what is needed to defend Israel.
- Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was informed of the targeted hit on Al-Atta before it took place.
- At the time of writing, initial reports indicate that the IDF has begun attacking Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza in retaliation for the massive rocket barrage.
JFNA’s Israel office has activated emergency protocols and is in close touch with our partners and individual federation representatives on the ground.
- There are currently no Federation missions travelling under JFNA auspices or Birthright groups in Israel.
- Two JFNA-organized VIP visits are in Israel, but neither are in areas under fire, and the Israel office is in touch with both.
- Jewish Agency absorption centers have begun operating in “emergency mode,” meaning that activities take place only within range of a shelter. The Agency is also reaching out to all programs to determine immediate needs.
- JDC is also currently gathering information and assessing needs from the field.
- The Israel Trauma Coalition’s resilience centers have naturally experienced a significant increase in emergency calls. One of the buildings where the resilience center operates (in Sderot) was hit and evacuated. There are no physical injuries reported, and workers continue to operate from a different location in the city.
- Israel’s Emergency Coalition Roundtable (known by its Hebrew acronym “Rachel;” and of which JFNA is a partner) will convene the Civil Society Emergency Forum at 3pm Israel time.
As always, JFNA’s Israel office is in close touch with Israeli government authorities and our partners and is very closely monitoring the situation.
Sources: Office of the Prime Minister, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IDF Spokesperson, Israel Channel 12 News, Galei Tzahal Radio, the Jerusalem Post