Waking up to the 22nd day of Operation Protective Edge to news that five more Israeli soldiers had been killed, bringing the total deaths to a painful 53, is a terrible way to begin a day.
The five soldiers were killed when terrorists from Gaza entered Israel through an underground tunnel. According to the Israel Defense Force (IDF), the terrorists attempted to kidnap a wounded soldier during the incident. Last night was also the first night rockets were fired at Israeli civilians throughout the night and into the morning.
I have already written — on more than one occasion – about how difficult this operation has been for Israel in general. But it is particularly hard on the residents of the country’s south.
Most kibbutzim have evacuated their children; many have evacuated entire families. Our kibbutzim in the north have been hosting these southern kibbutzniks and other residents of the south for 22 days now.
However, for some, evacuating is not an option. One of those communities includes a small pastoral village less than 16 miles from Gaza. Aleh Negev Nahalat Eran is a community of Jewish, Muslim and Christian people with special needs who have not been able to leave their residence.
For 22 days now the village has been under constant and direct threat from Hamas rockets. Unfortunately, the terrorists do not make distinctions when targeting communities. That these are people with special needs, with both physical and cognitive disabilities, doesn’t matter. And yet, the residents of this community cannot run in 30 seconds to a bomb shelter. Many are in wheelchairs or use walkers, some of them are carry cumbersome oxygen tanks, or hooked up to other medical equipment.
For this reason, the Home Front Command has advised the village management to keep as many residents as possible in the safe rooms around the clock for the duration of the operation. Only those who can walk or who can be moved quickly inside, have been able to take short trips outside, to breath the fresh air and see the sun during these past few weeks. They are accompanied by caregivers, and not allowed to venture very far from the shelters. Every building on the premises has a safe area.
A few days ago a rocket landed near one of the residences, splintering and damaging one of the houses. Because the residence was following these tight security instructions, no one was hurt. This is the second rocket that has fallen in the grounds of Aleh Negev since the start of Operation Protective Edge.
Spending time in shelters a greater struggle for people with special needs. Changes in their daily routine cause stress and can have a major impact on their moods. Being cooped up in a shelter all day also affects their mental and physical well-being. Many of them, for example, have suppressed immune systems and are easily susceptible to germs. Being confined in a room with little ventilation is not only physically difficult for them, but may also cause illnesses.
The dedicated staff at Aleh Negev reflects the makeup of the Israeli society. Both Jews and Arabs work here. Some of the Arab staff members have family living in Gaza and some of the Israelis have sons and daughters in the IDF. And yet, here, they co-exist and work together serving this residential community.
Aleh was founded on the belief that every child, regardless of disability, has the right to benefit from the best available care, develop to his or her fullest potential and live a quality life.
Aleh Negev, part of Aleh foundation founded 32 years ago, was established by Maj. Gen. Doron Almog, a reservist, in honor of his eldest son, Eran, who was born with severe autism and developmental handicaps. Eran Almog was one of Aleh’s first residents. Today approximately 140 residents live in the village, which has 230 staff members.
Earlier today I had a long conversation with Reut Twito, a social worker in training. Reut has been part of Aleh’s team for seven years, handling the jobs of PR director and professional assistant to the village’s founder and chair.
Reut described the special challenges that exist daily, but that are exacerbated every time Israel has been embroiled in a conflict that directly impacts this area of the country. Missiles targeting the area stress the residents, as well as their parents and family members, who naturally worry. The staff seeks to provide comfort and care under tough circumstances, and a safe and happy environment during times of crises. One of their main challenges is communication — most of Aleh’s residents can’t communicate verbally. At times like this when communication is key to calming residents and offering comfort, staff has to be creative and use images, songs and touch to communicate and deliver messages.
Reut takes pride in her staff’s commitment and loyalty. She describes a feeling of family, unity and strength. When people are surrounded by love, care and compassion, nothing, not even rockets guided by evil can harm them.
JCC Israel Center