Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rocket Women

Long time between posts. Sorry about that ...

Just back from what has become an annual three-day trek to Washington, DC, accompanying eight Israeli women who provide social welfare services to their countrymen. A group called Shalom Yisrael sponsors their two-week rest and relaxation tour of New York and Washington. Two were from Jerusalem. They work in a shelter for battered women and children. The remaining six live in the Eshkol region along the border with the Gaza Strip. They are first-responder trauma care providers, along with being targets themselves, as are their families, to the frequent missile attacks from across the border. Over the four day period surrounding the holiday of Purim (March 8), for example, 80 of the 200 missiles landing in Israel fell in the communities of the Eshkol region. A rocket not so long ago landed on the desk of one of the women. Fortunately, it was a Saturday so no one was working. 

Israel has implemented an “Iron Dome” defense against rocket attacks, but what is not widely known is the missile shield is in place to protect larger cities, such as Ashkelon, not the small kibbutzim and moshavs adjacent to the Gaza Strip. Residents of the Eshkol district have about 15 seconds’ warning of incoming rocket fire to seek shelter. 

Here’s another fact gleaned from my time with these brave, resilient women—homes within four and a half kilometers (2.7 miles) of the border have been outfitted by the government with “safe rooms” built to withstand a direct hit (fyi—since the first Gulf War all new residential construction in Israel must include a safe room). In communities four and a half to seven kilometers from the border, no safe rooms are retrofitted to existing homes. The only government funded security is a shelter for kindergarten children. Beyond seven kilometers, everyone is vulnerable. No safety measures are provided.

If you’re as surprised as I was to find this out, you’re in good company. As they related this state of affairs over breakfast in the Congressional Dining Room to Representative Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, she sat with mouth agape. Clearly the success of the Iron Dome, while a source of national pride, has done little to make the lives of these vulnerable Israeli women and their neighbors any safer. 

What also emerged from the breakfast meeting was a suggestion that our government needs to do a better job explaining how foreign aid not only helps other countries but also is a direct contributor to American jobs and our economy. Almost all foreign aid monies must be spent in the United States on equipment, materiel and other goods before being shipped overseas. Foreign aid is a good example of your tax dollars at work, here and abroad.  

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