After the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas ended with a ceasefire, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s Insight Israel Forum held a briefing on Operation Guardian of the Walls.
The virtual briefing on May 24 had more than 150 attendees. Introductions included remarks from Forum Director Jeffrey Blavatt; Co-Chairs of the Board Atara Frankel and Will Minkin; and The Associated FY 20 Directors-At-Large Harriette Wienner and Robert Keehn; among others. Sigal Ariely, the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership director, spoke about her personal experience during the conflict, and Avi Melamed, founder and CEO of Inside the Middle East, provided a political analysis.
Through its Annual Campaign, The Associated has been able to send emergency funds to Israel for air conditioners and mattresses for shelters. Additional assistance is needed, including for safety and protective equipment, trauma counseling and triage services, among other immediate and long-term needs.
The Associated is working closely with its partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Israel Trauma Coalition, to support those in Israel, especially in The Associated’s sister city, Ashkelon.
During the conflict, Hamas launched more than 4,300 rockets into Israel. One of those rockets hit Ariely’s home.
“On the 10th day of the operation, the ceasefire was coming,” she said. “The last hours of a ceasefire are always very intense. My stomach was turning. I had a feeling something was going to happen. I didn’t think that a rocket would hit my house.”
She was preparing for a Zoom call when she heard the siren, she said. She went to a shelter and saw that her son was on his way out, behind her.
Ariely’s son was still in the house when the rocket hit. When Ariely returned to the house, she saw him covered by debris. She screamed, and her son told her, “I am OK, take a breath. I am OK.”
“My house was destroyed,” Ariely said. “The only thing that matters is that my son and I are OK.”
Ariely went from being a regular person in Ashkelon, she said, to being “the picture of the last rocket falling in Ashkelon.” The rocket landed in the middle of her house. “Nothing survived, everything is broken,” Ariely said. Within minutes, dozens of people had arrived to her home, including police, reporters and the mayor of Ashkelon.
“I have a lot of support from everyone, and I thank you,” she said at the briefing. “In a year or two, we will have our home again. Thank you for all the love and support.”
It will take some time before Ariely’s home is rebuilt – the government, as well as the property tax unit that specializes in houses destroyed by terror attacks, must assess the situation, she explained.
Asked how Baltimore could assist her and the general community in Ashkelon, Ariely replied, “You do so much as a federation in Ashkelon.” The Associated’s support of their shelters, she said, have “saved the lives of many.”
After Ariely spoke, Melamed provided an overview of the conflict. His presentation addressed what led to the war between Israel and Hamas and what the objectives of each side were. He also provided background on Hamas, which governs Gaza, and Fatah, the largest party of the Palestinian National Authority, which governs part of the West Bank.
“Hamas initiated the war for innerpolitical reasons,” Melamed said. “Many Arab commentators think this.”
Hamas’ goals, Melamed said, included undermining the Abraham Accords, fomenting violence between Jews and Arabs who live in Israel and expanding the war into Lebanese and Syrian arenas.
Israel’s objectives, Melamed continued, included the elimination of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as their tunnels, attack drones, maritime threats, missiles, rockets and rocket launchers, and to restore security for Israelis around Gaza and throughout the country.
“Israel toppled down Hamas’ military strategy,” Melamed said. “When you shoot a lot of rockets, the idea is that the Iron Dome won’t be able to handle all of them. The death toll in comparison fell very short of Hamas’ expectations.”
“The overwhelming majority of Jews and Arabs are peaceful people,” he said. “You have Jews and Arabs working together in NGOs, hospitals, as academics. The violence we saw is a result of extremists on both sides, Jews and Arabs. The circles that continue to exempt Hamas are not contributing to a positive direction, but perpetuate and deepen the tragedy of both people.”